Sundance Review: 'What Happened, Miss Simone' Details Nina Simone's Troubled Life & Legacy
For the Institute's show, Simone's former band leader, the guitarist Al Schackman, joined bassist Kate Davis' quartet to give the evening an added element of gravitas. The singers responded, whether reaching for the heavens with joy or detailing the pain of injustice.
Badu, who silenced the packed house with an a cappella version of "Feeling Good" to open the two-hour show, wound her way through verses about people of different skin color in "Peaches," shifting each verse's opening line just-so, effectively emphasizing their position in society until the song bursts with its final declaration of "I'm Peaches."
Blacc delivered an emotionally wrenching rendition of "Strange Fruit," the story of a lynching best known as a Billie Holiday classic, with simple haunting solo piano accompaniment. "I Put A Spell on You," with the band taking Simone's funkified twist on the Screamin' Jay Hawkins song, found Blacc soaring vocally to a height he generally does not reach on record. He let the band stretch out on "Sinnerman."
Common closed the evening by connecting her work with hip-hop, starting with his "Misunderstood" that liberally samples her take on "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," and closing with "U, Black Maybe," rapping over Simone's "Young, Gifted & Black." Both included considerable freestyle moments that included shout-outs to everyone from Simone to Selma director Ava DuVernay and the Simone concert's co-producer Tracy McKnight.
Warner Bros. singer Andra Day, Sam Cooke-inspired soul singer Leon Bridges and Davis delivered equally riveting takes on Simone's material. Check out the full set list below.
"I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free"
"I Loves You Porgy"
"Be My Husband"
"Mississippi God Damn"
"Sea Lion Woman"
"I Put a Spell on You"
"U Black, Maybe"