Little Girl Blue
Before her roaring performance at the 1976 Montreaux Jazz Festival, Nina Simone was a star dimensioned by near bankruptcy and self-imposed exile. A new documentary asks ‘What Happened, Miss Simone’?
It was an historic moment when Nina Simone took the stage at the 1976 Montreaux Jazz Festival, marking her return to music following an extended period of near bankruptcy and self-imposed exile. It’s hard to imagine Simone’s immense presence and immeasurable talent ever falling off the map. What Happened, Miss Simone?, Liz Garbus’ new documentary about the High Priestess of Soul, uses the concert to pose—and eventually come full to answer—its titular question. Unearthing a wealth of archival footage, rare interviews, and diary excerpts, the film narrates the triumphs and tragedies of Simone’s life and career largely in the late singer’s unmistakable voice, which by her own admission, “sometimes sounds like gravel and sometimes sounds like coffee and cream.”
The metaphor extends to her erratic temperament, which could turn on a dime from vulnerable to volatile. Highly demanding and wildly unpredictable, Simone would infamously walk out on her audience or insult them midway through a song if she felt she wasn’t getting the undivided attention she deserved—but when she had them, they were rapt under her spell.