Eleven Artists Carrying On Nina Simone's Legacy

New 'Nina' movie opens April 22, 2016 starring Zoe Saldana

A new film about Nina Simone, Nina, opens April 22, 2016 starring Zoe Saldana in the title role. On June 24, 2015, the documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone? opened with an accompanying CD, Nina Revisited: A Tribute To Nina Simone, which was released July 10, 2015. Lauryn Hill recorded six songs for the album which also featured Mary J. Blige, Usher, Common, Lalah Hathaway. and Simone's daughter, Lisa Simone

Hill performed with a 19-piece band at the New York premiere of the film on June 1, 2015 at the Apollo Theater, singing "Ne Me Quitte Pas," "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair," "Ain't Got No, I Got Life," and the Simone instrumental, "African Mailman." She closed her performance with the words, "Thank you Nina Simone for existing, and being bold enough to speak."

Here is a list of "Eleven Artists Carrying On Nina Simone's Legacy."

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Nina Simone

Nina Simone. Ebet Roberts/Redfern

Born February 21, 1933 in South Carolina, Nina Simone was a trailblazing recording artist and civil rights activist. Simone was one of the most versatile artists of her time, incorporating classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, and gospel into her own unique style. She received fifteen Grammy Award nominations, and her interpretation of "I Loves You, Porgy" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2000. She passed away April 21, 2003 at the age of 70.

Watch Nina Simone perform "I Loves You Porgy" live.

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Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Nina Simone recorded her classic "To Be Young, Gifted and Black" for her 1970 Black Gold album. It became a top Ten R&B hit, and an anthem for the civil rights movement. It was inspired by Lorraine Hasberry's unfinished play of the same name.

Aretha Franklin re-recorded the song as the title song of an album she released in 1972. Listen to Franklin sing "To Be Young, Gifted and Black"

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Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Hill. Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Lauryn Hill recorded six songs for Nina Revisited...A Tribute to Nina Simone, including four covers of Simone songs (“Feeling Good," “Black Is The Color Of My True Love’s Hair," “Wild Is The Wind," and “African Mailman”). She added two original compositions she wrote for the CD, “I’ve Got Life," and “Ne Me Quitte Pas."

She explains that Simone was one of her greatest inspirations. "I fed on this music, both hers and lovers like her, like my basic food." She continues,"I believed I always had a right to have a voice. Her example is clearly a form of sustenance to a generation needing to find theirs. What a gift."

Listen to Lauryn Hill perform "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair" from Nina Revisited...A Tribute to Nina Simone

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John Legend

John Legend. Jason Merritt/Getty Images

John Legend performed a tribute to Nina Simone following the screening of What Happened, Miss Simone? on January 22, 2015 at the Sundance Film Festival. He commented, "I'm so grateful to be here today honoring the legacy of the wonderful, powerful, dynamic, super-talented Nina Simone." He added, "I find myself studying her versions of all kinds of songs, thinking about her words, thinking about her boldness, thinking about her commitment to justice," he said. "I'm truly humbled to be here tonight to honor her legacy."

During his performance, Legend sang Simone's version of "Lilac Wine," followed by "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free," and "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood."

At the Academy Awards on February 22, 2015, prior to singing his Oscar winning song "Glory" from the movie Selma, Legend quoted Simone as he said, “It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live.” He continued, "We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say, Selma is now."

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Mary J. Blige

Mary J. Blige. Paul Morigi/FilmMagic

Mary J. Blige was originally selected to portray Nina Simone in the film Nina which opens April 16, 2016 starring Zoe Saldana.

Blige explains why she admires Simone. "Nina was different from me in a lot of ways. She was courageous and confident. I’m just growing into that." She adds, "“But she was like that ever since she was a little girl — she was never afraid during a period when there was so much racism. She was always bold."

Listen to Mary J. Blige perform "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" from Nina Revisited...A Tribute to Nina Simone

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Common. Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Nina Simone recorded "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" for her 1964 album, "Broadway-Blues-Ballads." Common utilized her vocals and added his own lyrics to his own version. 

Listen to Common perform "Misunderstood" featuring Nina Simone from his Finding Forever CD

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Lalah Hathaway

Lalah Hathaway. Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic

Donny Hathaway recorded the Nina Simone classic "To Be Young, Gifted and Black" on his 1970 album Everything Is Everything. His daughter Lalah Hathaway, recorded a new version, with Common.

Listen to Lalah Hathaway and Common perform "To be Young Gifted and Black" from Nina Revisited...A Tribute to Nina Simone

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Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys. Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Nina Simone is one of the artists who has most strongly influenced 15-time Grammy Award winner Alicia Keys.

Keys comments, "I have always felt a kindred spirit to Nina Simone. I certainly owe a great deal to her inspiration. She began with a love of classical piano, just like me, and followed that passion to become one of the most important voices in American music and in American history." She adds, "There are so many things to admire about Nina but I think the thing that stands out the most to me is her courage. As an artist, she bravely tackled so many musical styles jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop, and did so at a time when women, especially Black women, were told to keep silent."

"The strength Nina found in music was only trumped by the strength she had as a pioneer and champion of the civil rights movement. She is an extremely special woman!  One who I turn to time and time again as an example of breaking boundaries."

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Patti LaBelle

Patti LaBelle and Nina Simone. KMazur/WireImage

Patti LaBelle performed with Nina Simone, along with Elton John, James Taylor and Wynonna Judd, at Sting's 12th Annual Rainforest Foundation Concert on April 13, 2000 at Carnegie Hall in New York City. She also sang at the memorial service for Simone at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York on July 26, 2003.

She recalls that Simone taught her to be more assertive in her career. "I was talking to Nina Simone about a week before she died. She told me I was going to have to learn how to be mean. I can’t be mean, but I have learned to demand what’s rightfully mine. When I put my foot down and say, 'This is mine,” I mean it.'"

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Usher. Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Gabrielle's Angel Foundation

Nina Simone recorded "My Baby Just Cares For Me" for her 1958 album, Little Girl Blue. The song became a hit 29 years later in 1987 when it was featured in a perfume commercial n the United Kingdom.

Listen to Usher perform "My Baby Just Cares For Me" from Nina Revisited...A Tribute to Nina Simone

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Jazmine Sullivan

Jazmine Sullivan. Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic

Jazmine Sullivan recorded "Baltimore" for Nina Revisited...A Tribute to Nina Simone. Composed by Randy Newman, the song was the title tune of an album released by Simone in 1978. Sullivan performed "Baltimore" live at the New York City premiere of the documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone?, at the Apollo Theater on June 1, 2016.

Listen to Jazmine Sullivan perform "Baltimore" from Nina Revisited...a Tribute to Nina Simone

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Ledisi. Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Ledisi recorded the Nina Simone classic "Four Women" with Laura Izibor, and Nina Simone's daughter, Lisa, for the 2010 For Colored Girls  soundtrack. The song originally appeared on Simone's 1966 Wild Is The Wind album. Ledisi also performed the song with Jill Scott, Marsha Ambrosius and Kelly Price during the 2010 Black Girls Rock show on BET. Ledisi remembers it was a turning point in her career.

"Singing her song, 'Four Women' on Black Girls Rock, would literally catapult my career to a level that I never would have dreamed of.  Her legacy lifted me and reminded me to be proud of my skin and embrace the walk I was given.  I truly hope I made her proud.  Every now and then, I hope she can feel how much I love her.  She has saved my life so many times.  Her music lets me know I am not alone in my journey.  It’s alright to be different. I adore Ms. Nina Simone!"

Listen to Nina Simone. Lisa Simone, Laura Izibor and Ledisi sing "Four Women" here