"What Happened, Miss Simone?" recalls the improbable rise to fame by Nina Simone during the turbulent 1950’s. This Oscar-nominated documentary combines rare concert footage with recorded interviews from Simone’s life and a first-person perspective from her daughter. The music documentary has been popular for several years (“Searching for Sugar Man,” “20 Feet from Stardom,” and this year’s Oscar frontrunner “Amy”), and I hope that their popularity with critics and the Academy will continue to encourage filmmakers when choosing subject matter for their next documentary. I would have never known Simone’s story or incredible talent without this film. It is hard to categorize her music because she transcends genres. Simone's style is a fusion of her classical piano background (particularly Bach) and natural ear for jazz. She aspired to be the first famous black classical pianist but was forced to alter her style when she was denied a scholarship from Curtis Institute because of her race. She began playing at night clubs where she discovered her unique, soulful singing voice out of necessity to keep a piano gig as a young adult. It has the quality of a baritone voice singing in an alto range and is one of the most unique voices that you will ever here. Her sound brought the fame that allowed her to become an important figure in the Civil Rights Movement. She was very bold but could use more blatant song lyrics because she was a woman. For all of her successes in the music industry, she fought the challenges of depression, an abusive husband, and eventually exiled herself to Liberia. “What Happened, Miss Simone?” is full of history, great music, and a strong message about Civil Rights and domestic abuse.
[Pictured: Her piano style is unlike anything you’ve heard, as is her voice]