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Nina Simone


Central Park Blues” (1958) written by Nina Simone. From her debut album 'Little Girl Blue'. While best remembered for her vocal talents, Nina shows off her considerable chops at the piano.


On the same album her cover of  "I Loves You Porgy" from the opera 'Porgy and Bess' (George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin). This would be her highest ranking hit on Billboard at #18 on the Pop chart and #5 on the R&B. The video clip shows how brilliant she was and how effortless her piano playing appears, she was quite remarkable.

Born in North Carolina, Eunice Kathleen Waymon (February 21, 1933 – April 21, 2003) she was a student at the Juilliard School of Music. She changed her name when she was performing in nightclubs in Atlantic City, which is when she started to add vocals to her piano playing. She was really only interested in classical music and studies, so performing using pop music and later recording (income) was used to pursue just that.

My Baby Just Cares for Me” at nearly 200 documented cover versions is a jazz standard written by Walter Donaldson with lyrics by Gus Kahn. From the film version of the musical comedy 'Whoopee!' (1930), the song became a signature tune for Eddie Cantor who sang it in the movie.

The first actual recording was by Ted Weems and His Orchestra 1930 with vocals by Art Jarrett. Oddly in the early days of recording of just about any ‘so and so’ with his orchestra, the vocalists are rarely mentioned. Lyrics of this song seem to vary quite a bit from recording to recording.

Other notable covers include Nat King Cole and later his daughter Natalie Cole, Frank Sinatra, Florence Welch of Florence + Machine, Cyndi LauperMichael BublĂ©, Jeff Goldblum & The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra with amazing vocals from Haley Reinhart.

Clearly the best and most well known version of the song is by Nina Simone from 1958, this is the first recording I found where the name of Liz Taylor, Lana Turner and Liberace show up. Although I can find no reference as to who actually changed the original lyrics, it may have been Nina herself. It seems there are almost as many lyrics and names added as there are versions of the song although most newer recordings (post 1987) largely follow the Simone lyrics. As they typically do the song writing credits always remain with the original writers, and unless the owners of the rights add a name to share the credit it won't change. It seems this song went somewhat unnoticed until used in a perfume ad in 1987 and had a huge resurgence. Unfortunately for Nina she had no rights to the song and gained little from it's popularity apart from some increase in CD sales.

Here is Nina Simone in another video, one of the all-time great vocalists and more remarkable piano playing as well. This is an extended version of the original song and if you click on SHOW MORE there’s a short bio.

An interesting Claymation video with original Simone vocals.

Usher recorded it in 2015 for a Nina Simone tribute album, he ironically changed the lyrics in an effort I suppose to modernize the names and references. One would think in a real 'tribute' being true to the honoree's original recording might be the way to go. Particularly because Nina Simone was about the 30th or so artist to record the song and it is her version of the song and new lyrics that was a turning point for the song itself. All this is lost in a so called 'tribute' that missed the history entirely and in the end it becomes just another version of the song.


Simone was deeply involved in the civil rights movement in the early 1960's and beyond and she produced some powerful protest songs. "Mississippi Goddam",
"Four Women" and "To Be Young, Gifted and Black"(Weldon Irvine, Nina Simone).  Aretha Franklin recorded this last song and it was the inspiration for her Album 'Young, Gifted and Black' released in 1972. "To Be Young, Gifted and Black" was also covered by a young Reg Dwight (Elton John) released in 1970.

Nina Simone produced 40 albums but did not gain significant popularity until a few years just before her death giving her more well deserved (financial) security. Simone died in her sleep after suffering with Breast Cancer for several years. She did more amazing covers of songs such as "Baltimore" originally by Randy Newman, "To Love Somebody" from the Bee Gees and in 1961"The House of the Rising Sun" made famous by 'The Animals' in 1964. This song is classified as a 'traditional' American folk song and has a long and interesting history, the first persevered recording is from 1933 "Rising Sun Blues" by Ashley and Foster.

More info about Nina Simone via a biopic and also NinaThe Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, where she was inducted in 2018. Her autobiography is titled "I Put a Spell on You"


References: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_PageSecondhandsongs.comhttp://www.ninasimone.com/
images: http://www.ninasimone.com/

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