Songs for Sunrise: Nina Simone

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“Feelin’ Good’

Sometimes I see it in the eyes of people as I walk the dawn shores. They are here at the beach for a purpose. For change. In their eye the sunrise marks an important moment of inspiration. The time for change is now.

A sunrise can be a catalyst for action – witnessing the dawn with a new, steely eye, a clarity of purpose and understanding can be a life-changing thing. In these moments the sunrise can be really vivid and vibrant. Not just as a visual experience but as a call to action. A re-birth. A new dawn, a new day, a new life…

Nina Simone came to the song ‘Feeling Good’ through her arranger, Hal Mooney, who had already worked closely with some of Black America’s finest voices including Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan. Mooney had a knack for the jazz arrangement – he’d done charts for Sinatra – but also had a way of merging mambo, swing and rhythm and blues songs, and transforming familiar songs and standards into something far more dramatic.

Nina Simone, 1965. by Ron Anefo / Dutch National Archives.

Nina Simone, 1965. by Ron Anefo / Dutch National Archives.

Nina Simone was already a huge New York star. A child prodigy who had forged a live reputation through her riveting combination of classical piano and gospel righteousness. She was friends with African-American culture’s finest minds including Langston Hughes and James Baldwin.

Her ability to transform a song was second to none. Nina’s version of Gershwin’s ‘I love you Porgy” was both passionate and political. “My Baby Just Cares for Me” was suddenly a vibrant, lighthearted breeze. Somehow she could take a song and make it hers.

On the 1965 album “I Put a Spell On You” that live passion was successfully captured on vinyl, and the inclusion of an English show tune from a recent Broadway show was the album’s slow burner.

‘Feeling Good’ was the song.

The original context was a music hall production about upper and lower class struggles in the theater. In Nina Simone’s hands it became powerful and personal. Though ‘Mississippi Goddam’ she had already brought the clubs, whips, and tear gas of Selma to the heart of New York City. ‘Feeling Good’ too seems connected to the civil rights struggle and the need to keep positive and non-violent in the face of adversity. Mooney’s arrangement recalls classic Gershwin as he gave Nina’s treatment a lush, dramatic soundscape.

Other people, from Canadian crooner Michael Bublé, bluesman Joe Bonamassa, and British alt-rockers Muse have covered the song, and the inspirational qualities of the song remain undiminished. But Nina had heart and Nina brought the soul. Nina made it inspirational.

This song is about making a brand new start, inspired by nature, powered by feelings and delivered by the morning sun.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Royston is a designer, artist and photoblogger based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He is one of the world’s best known mobile photographers and his work has been exhibited across the UK and Europe. He is the winner of the 2014 Mobile Photography Awards ‘Nature and Wildlife’ Award. Veteran of the London 1980s music scene, where he designed record sleeves for all kinds of rock stars and indie heroes he is a bottomless pit of musical trivia. Still looking for the next big thing he’ll be dropping into JAQUO.COM to write an irregular column on the musicians he’s most excited about.

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1 Comment

  1. I really love Nina Simone’s way with a song. Feelin’ Good gets to me every time I hear it. She’s so good…she also does a song called “Workin'” that gets to me too. She’s a fantastic song artist, not just a singer. Thanks for this about one of my favorites.

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