Mood Indigo: The Complete Bethlehem Singles
Nina Simone was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina in 1933. The sixth child born to a preacher she aspired to be a concert pianist. With the help of a few friends she enrolled in the Juilliard School of Music in New York City. In order to fund her lessons she performed in Atlantic City using the stage name “Nina”, a nickname given to her by her boyfriend, and “Simone” taken from the French actress Simone Signoret. She needed to disguise herself from family members as she had chosen to sing “the devil’s music”.
In 1958 Simone recorded George Gershwin’s “I Love You Porgy”, from Porgy and Bess, which she learned from a Billie Holiday album and it became a hit. Unannounced Simone was visited by Syd Nathan, a co-owner of the independent jazz label Bethlehem and, owner of the Cincinnati based King and Federal labels. He arrived with a bunch of songs for her to record but she told him she would choose her own material and pick her own musicians. She already had a fully developed musical style all her own as she combined jazz, gospel, blues, folk, R&B and pop with Classical music.
At the age of twenty-five Simone entered Beltone Studios for a one day recording session. Her one-album contract, for her debut “Little Girl Blue”, allowed her to choose her own music and direction. It was also her decision to record as a trio with bassist Jimmy Bond and drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath. There were eleven tracks. Simone soon left Bethlehem Records but that label made the most of their material releasing all the original tracks as singles plus three which had been left off the initial release.
It’s been sixty years since these recordings and BMG/Bethlehem has compiled these singles on this commemorative album. The recording showcases a young Simone with her own distinctive style on a set of jazz and Broadway tunes. Highlights include Gershwin’s “Porgy”; Walter Donaldson’s “Love Me or Leave Me”; Richard Rodger’s “Little Girl Blue”; Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo”; and Count Basie’s “Good Bait”. Not only was Simone a great singer, pianist, songwriter and arranger but she also became an activist in the Civil Rights Movement.
On April 14, 2018 Simone will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
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