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Unearthed Gem: Nina Simone's 1966 Newport Jazz Festival Performance Now Available as an Album

by Venus Sanders

Nina Simone fans have a reason to rejoice as a previously unreleased recording of the iconic artist's performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in July 1966 is finally seeing the light of day.

Verve Records and UMe are releasing "You've Got to Learn," a six-song set that includes a unique rendition of Simone's acclaimed protest song, "Mississippi Goddam."

Image Credit: David Redfern / Staff / Getty Images

The setlist features other soul-stirring songs, such as "You've Got to Learn," "I Loves You, Porgy," "Blues For Mama," "Be My Husband," and "Music for Lovers." Alongside Simone's mesmerizing piano playing, the performance includes accompaniment on guitar, bass, and drums. Although there are some sound issues throughout the recording, Simone's commanding presence and sheer mastery shine through.

In the liner notes, Simone scholar Shana L. Redmond describes Simone's performance as passionate and coaxing, showcasing the blend of intimacy and immediacy for which she was renowned on stage.

"Mississippi Goddam" holds historical significance as Simone's response to the 1963 Alabama church bombing that claimed the lives of four young girls and the assassination of Medgar Evers in Mississippi the same year. The version performed at the festival differs from earlier renditions, exhibiting a different swing and featuring the poignant line "Watts has made me lose my rest," referencing the 1965 riots in Los Angeles.

Image Credit: David Redfern / Staff / Getty Images

2023 marks the 90th birthday of Nina Simone, the "High Priestess of Soul" and a prominent civil rights icon. Throughout her illustrious career, she recorded nearly 40 albums between 1958 and 1973, leaving behind a legacy of cherished songs like "I Put a Spell on You," "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," and "Feeling Good." Her impact and influence continue to resonate, even after her passing in 2003.


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