Netflix and RadicalMedia paired up to produce and release the Nina Simone documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone” that traces the life of the iconic singer and activist from her childhood classical training to her triumphant late-Eighties resurgence.
The Netflix original premieres exclusively in all territories where the streaming site is available, on Friday, June 26. The documentary uses recordings of Simone interviews and glimpses of diary entries to tell the tale, the film unflinchingly delves into manic depression, bipolar disorder and the cycle of abuse while providing plenty of powerful performance footage.
Made in cooperation with the Estate of Nina Simone, and described as an “epic” documentary, director Liz Garbus’ film interweaves never-before-heard recordings and rare archival footage together, with Nina’’s most memorable songs, incorporating never-before-heard audio tapes, recorded over the course of 3 decades, of Nina, telling her life story to various interviewers and would-be biographers. Rare concert footage and archival interviews, along with diaries, letters, interviews with Nina’’s daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, friends and collaborators, and other exclusive materials, make this the most authentic, personal, and unflinching telling of the extraordinary life of one of the 20th Century’s greatest recording artists.
Accompanying its release, the RCA music label will also drop a Nina Simone tribute album, titled “Nina Revisited: A Tribute to Nina Simone,” which comes out on July 10. Among others, it’ll feature the contributions of Mary J. Blige, Usher, Common, Alice Smith, Simone’s daughter Lisa, and Lauryn Hill, who also co-produced the album with Robert Glasper, and performed at the New York premiere, Monday, june 2, complete with a red carpet and an explosive mini tribute concert from Simone devotee, Ms. Lauryn Hill, the former Fugees’ femcee who once spit the lyrics, “So while you’re imitating Al Capone, I’ll be Nina Simone, And defecating on your microphone,” on the group’s hit single ‘Ready Or Not.’
Rolling Stones described Ms. Hill’s performance: “Her arrangements of Simone songs were as wild and unpredictable as the tour versions of her own hits. Backed by a 19-piece band, she opened en français with the Nina-covered Jacques Brel tune “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” turning the fragile lover’s lament into a bombastic tune with Ennio Morricone drama and a hard-funking beat. A cover of “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” flickered with trap-style hi-hat jitters and John Carpenter synths, her voice hoarse but the end product rewriting a classic ballad as a dystopian Stevie Wonder with a long vamping outro.”
After three false starts to get some sound issues correct (“We’re gonna do this right,” said Hill), she launched into a deconstructed version of Simone’s 1968 proto-rap “Ain’t Got No, I Got Life” complete with new blazing, high-octane, highly technical rhymes (“Lyrics with the safety off/Now dance around these niggas like Baryshnikov”), Rolling Stones Magazine reported.
Jazmine Sullivan came out from the wings for a run-through of “Baltimore,” a Randy Newman song that Simone covered in the late Seventies. Hill was sure to explicitly make the connection between the 1977 song (“Oh, Baltimore/Man, it’s hard just to live, just to live”) and the recent death of Freddie Gray. For the final number, Hill conducted her band for a version of the 1959 Simone instrumental “African Mailman,” making commands and shaping the sound as the musicians burned through solos (the highlight being a ripping, Jean-Luc Ponty-style violin turn). “Thank you Nina Simone for existing,” said Hill before leaving, “and being bold enough to speak.”
Nina Revisted also features tracks from Usher, Jazmine Sullivan, Mary J. Blige, Common and Lisa Simone, and you can see the full tracklist below.
1. Lisa Simone – “Nobody’s Fault but Mine (Intro)”
2. Ms. Lauryn Hill – “Feeling Good”
3. Ms. Lauryn Hill – “I’ve Got Life” – Ms. Lauryn Hill
4. Ms. Lauryn Hill – “Ne Me Quitte Pas” – Ms. Lauryn Hill
5. Jazmine Sullivan “Baltimore”
6. Grace – “Love Me or Leave Me”
7. Usher – “My Baby Just Cares For Me”
8. Mary J. Blige – “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”
9. Gregory Porter – “Sinnerman”
10. Common & Lalah Hathaway – “YG&B”
11. Alice Smith – “I Put A Spell On You”
12. Lisa Simone – “I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl”
13. Ms. Lauryn Hill – “Black Is The Color Of My True Love’s Hair”
14. Ms. Lauryn Hill – “Wild Is The Wind”
15. Ms. Lauryn Hill – “African Mailman”
16. Nina Simone – “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”