Not early enough in my life to appreciate and enjoy your musical talents and your soulful voice, it is true, but I have done my best to make it up to you. I turned up the volume in my classroom when I played your song, “Mississippi Goddam,” as part of my social justice protest song project that I taught to countless high school juniors in my American Literature classes. I did mention playing a song with language “strong,” to one school administrator, but I received nothing in writing to prove his slight permission, if needed to defend my decision, should an offended parent come knocking.
I pushed the boundaries with that project and with your song in a conservative school setting, it is true, but I was ready to stand firm in my project and musical selection and defend the anger pouring from you. Handling an easily offended student or an upset parent, was the least I could do. You had the music industry turn against you. For writing and performing a song that addressed violence, racism, segregation, and oppression – they should have honored and celebrated you, but it was 1963 and the establishment was not ready for a talented black woman as bold as you. A woman of conviction, strong language was your soul’s cry and your only option because singing and playing nice would not get anyone’s attention. If the bombing of a church on youth day and the brutal murder of four young girls perpetrated by a splinter group of the KKK, and the violent assassination of Civil Rights activist and veteran, Medgar Evers do not justify strong language, then strong language should never again be screamed, spoken, sung, whispered, or heard anywhere by anyone.
I did not stop playing your tunes, Nina, when I left my classroom. Your version of the song, “Feeling Good” always makes me feel alive and with your passionate singing, I love to sway. I am in awe of the talent, courage, and the determination that you displayed, and I am forever grateful that I found you on that protest song research day. 🎤 Nina Simone (2/21/1933 – 4/21/2003) Rest in Peace, beautiful one.
A more recent discovery of you, Betty Davis, funk and soul singer/songwriter, surprised me and left me a little frustrated too. Although you left the music scene in 1979, how did it take a 2020 show, “Betty: They Say I am Different,” to learn of you? A different singer from a different decade, but I have already given my opinion why women, like Nina and you, have been hidden from the spotlight’s plain view. You were stylish in your appearance and fierce and determined in your musical ambition. You were sensitive too, losing your beloved father caused you to take a break from it all, taking time for needed reflection. Even though you left the stage years ago, the renewed interest in you, is extending your strong and unapologetic voice to a new generation.
Still discovering you, Betty, as someone who loves to move, I say thank you, for your solid groove. Your song, “He Was a Big Freak,” makes quite a statement and reveals an explanation on your banned situations. A song I never would have played in a classroom, and if pushing play on this song I were to ever entertain, I could not have articulated a compelling defense to the school board magistrates. But in my own home, I can turn you up as loud as I want and let your belting notes flood the air and disturb the peace, while taking over my moving limbs and feet. My peace-disturbing act has no consequences, unlike the many you faced just trying to live authentically. About you, Betty, I am still learning. As I do, I will keep your tunes turning. 🎤 Betty Davis (7/26/1945 – )
Continuing my honoring and celebrating of women during the National Women’s History Month, it was an honor to write about Nina and Betty. I will continue to learn about them and enjoy their music long after this month’s womanly focus ends. I will return Saturday with another life-inspired post. ✨ Enjoy your day and be well. 💗 Michele
Photos: Google images
© 2021 Michele Lee Sefton.