A Note to Nina and Betty

Why it took me searching for a protest song over eight years ago to find you, Nina Simone, I will never know. Of course, I know the answer to my rhetorical question. Your absence from musical rotations and from historical discussions (and from acceptance into the Institute of Music in Philadelphia in the 1950s) is just one example of a history of womanly omissions – yours compounded by racial discrimination.

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 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

References:

Nina Simone biographical timeline | American Masters | PBS

Betty: They Say I’m Different (2017) – IMDb

Photos: Google images

© 2021 Michele Lee Sefton.

35 thoughts on “A Note to Nina and Betty

  1. I am a huge fan of Nina Simone as I think we discussed before…such a raw voice and immense musical talent, and most importantly she took a stand against injustice and racial hatred. I enjoyed your tribute!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, I do remember you mentioning her in a post. 💓 We should start a Nina fan club! She was amazing. Playing her song, “Mississippi Goddam” in the classroom did make a few students uncomfortable, but her passion brought history to life, in a way that reading from a textbook could not. Talking about and teaching historical events that are based on racism and violence should be uncomfortable.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh how beautiful Michele. What a heartwarming tribute to women whose strength and advocacy fought for the greater good for all. So many unsung female heroes were not recognized for their humanitarian efforts. Thanks for your stand on behalf of their commitment. 🙂 ❤ 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Kym. I appreciate your heartfelt words of support, for my post and for the “many unsung female heroes.” 🙏🏻🙏🏻
      Nina and Betty – two bold and talented women, like many others, who were ahead of their time. Fortunately, many people have and continue to discover their work and timeless contributions to art, expression, individuality, freedom, and speaking (or singing) against injustice. It really is an honor to spotlight these two women, and other courageous women like them, who have given so much of themselves. 💓

      Like

      1. 🤗 Oh I concur Michele. Continue to be that beacon of light girlfriend. Continue to share and educate. That’s the one way to bring awareness to people about people who shaped our world. 🌎

        I don’t think we can get through all of them, but we sure as heck are going to do our part! 😊

        Much love! ❤️💛💚🧡💜

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Vicki Parham

    Wow Michele,
    Honestly, I had to Google a bit. I love powerful women and music-you have taught me about both.
    Thank you for celebrating these amazing women!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 😄 How did we survive before search engines? We probably slept more. 😆 You know I love sharing and teaching! Made even more enjoyable when I can deliver my message in poetic prose.😁 I am happy to read that my post brought you new info about two incredible artistic and inspirational women. It was a gift to write about Nina and Betty, thank you for reading. I hope life is treating you well. 🤗

      Like

    1. Thank you for visiting and reading, Cindy. I appreciate that. Nina and Betty certainly deserve respect for their talents, courage to be themselves, and for persevering against great adversity. 💪🏻💪🏻

      Liked by 1 person

    1. You are most welcome, thank you! If you are interested, you might want to check out the show about Betty. It is interesting.

      My students were always uneasy about the project, initially, because they had to not only write their own song, with a group, they had to perform it too. The project lasted several weeks, with many lessons along the way. When protest song presentation day arrived, they were excited to perform and watch their peers doing the same. The band students always made the day extra entertaining, and loud! 🎵😄 Thank you for mentioning the project.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I bet the students learned so much in that unit! Deciding what was important to protest would have been an interesting process. The performances would have been wonderful to see. I taught middle school Spanish for two years. The favorite unit was making signs for shops in a town and then giving directions from one to another.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I hope they did. 😁 It was very involved. True, it was interesting watching and listening to them decide on their protest focus and yes the performances were quite something. Talented young people! I taught middle school when I first began teaching. Your sign unit sounds like a great learning experience for them.

        Like

  4. Wonderful post and thank you for introducing me to these two awesome women. I had heard of Nina Simone but really did not know a lot about her. I have done some reading about, and listening to, both women, thank you again Michele.

    Liked by 1 person

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