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Nina Simone and Sister Rosetta Tharpe Are Finally Inducted Into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

The inductees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year included Bon Jovi, The Cars, Dire Straits, The Moody Blues, and Nina Simone for the Performer Category, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe in the Award for Early Influence.

The induction of Sister Rosetta Tharpe was one of the highlights for many who felt her electric sound, gospel music, and her completely original guitar playing has been much overlooked. Biographer Gayle Ward points out that this black woman, “influenced Elvis Presley, she influenced Johnny Cash, she influenced Little Richard. She influenced innumerable other people who we recognize as foundational figures in rock and roll.”

The induction and tribute to Tharpe was led by Alabama Shakes singer Brittany Howard who performed “That’s All” with Roots’ Questlove on drums and Paul Shaffer on piano and “Strange Things Happening Every Day.” Prior to the performance, Howard had told Rolling Stone that inducting Tharpe is “a huge honor” and that she “[hopes] this spotlight helps people discover what so many of us already know. She is one of the greatest artists of all time.”

Delivering the induction speech for Nina Simone was Mary J. Blige, who gave a powerful speech about her love for Simone. Blige was in no rush to give Simone her overdue spot, saying, “Please bear with me, this is a very long speech, but I’m here for the queen tonight. I’m going to take my time.” Simone had been eligible for induction since 1986, but only received her first nomination this year.

Blige spoke about Simone’s ability to make anything she sang her own, and the meaning being songs like “Mississippi Goddamn”. Blige explains, “her first civil rights song in response to Medgar Evers’ death in Mississippi and the four little black girls in the Alabama church bombing – gives us chills with its anointing and frustration and anger [at] the racism that was going on in the world.”

Nina was bold, strong, feisty and fearless, and so vulnerable and transparent all at the same time. Her voice was so distinctive and warm and powerful; I never heard anything like it. She knew who she was and she was confident in what she did and why she did it. But it was often the lack of confidence in herself that people could relate to. Nina sang for all her pain, her joy, her confusion, her happiness, her sickness, her fight. She fought through all the stereotypes. She fought for her identity. She fought for her life.


Andrew Young, who was the mayor of Atlanta and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a congressman, said that, during his days as a civil rights organizer, Simone’s music was the soundtrack of the movement. “Every home I went to had Nina Simone – I mean everyone,” he said. “For all the people in the civil rights moment, it was an identity.” Her songs about injustice, struggle, and black life resonate to this day. They’re just as relevant to Ferguson or Baltimore or Mississippi as they were to the civil rights era. And, of course, hip-hop took notice, with artists such as Ms. Lauryn Hill, Kanye West, Common, Jay-Z and myself, amongst others, sampling her extensively, and she has influenced countless singers, including many of them that are here on this stage today.

Blige’s speech is definitely worth listening to in full, as she goes through the personal and political power of Simone’s music.

She was followed by a speech from Simone’s brother Nyack Sam Waymon. The Roots and Andra Day performed a tribute with “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” and “I Put A Spell on You.”

The incomparable Lauryn Hill performed of “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” and “Feeling Good.”

The Hall of Fame website includes a playlist of the inductee’s music which you can check out here and here.

(via Rolling Stone, image: Screencap)

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