If Nina Simone, legendary singer and activist, was still with us today, she and her daughter Lisa Celeste Kelly (better known as "Simone") would undoubtedly be the baddest music duo in the new millennium. Unfortunately, that will never come to pass because we lost Nina, one of our staunchest supporters for the arts and civil rights, to breast cancer in 2003.
Continuing in the direction of timeless music, Simone is becoming a legend in her own right. In 2008, the singer/songwriter released her debut album Simone on Simone, a big band tribute to her mother. The project, produced by famed jazz musician and arranger Bob Belden, was well received by music lovers around the world. Simone inherited 50 of her mother’s original arrangements, and she chose 11 of them to include on the album.
Now, Simone is wrapping up her sophomore album slated for release in February 2013. Unlike her first album, Nina said, “This one’s given me a chance to break away from my legacy, if you will, and share my own message and my own stance musically.” It has more of an adult contemporary/classic style.
Simone told S2S that unlike most sophomore projects, “There was no pressure whatsoever.” Instead, she said, “It was easy. It was fun. It was brilliant.”
She recently spent time in France, performing in three different jazz festivals. She hadn’t been to Europe in a while; she’s been busy with her three children and husband of 16 years. Simone, a Gulf War veteran who has served her country for 11 years in the Air Force, said of Europe, “That’s where I started, and France is a love affair with my mother.” Both Nina Simone and her daughter Simone loved spending time there. Like mother, like daughter.
There’s no doubt Simone knows her craft, but she has also had to learn the law since her mother’s passing. Simone has been responsible for handling the Nina Simone Estate — and it’s been tough. “As her only child, I’ve had to fight on many fronts to, first of all, establish myself as a guardian of a legacy,” she explained. “And then proceed to just align a lot of things that have been out of alignment and handle a lot of affairs that keep cropping up.” It’s been nine years and she is pleased to finally be in a place to start thinking about a movie based on her mother’s life, as well as a Broadway play.
With a National Broadway Theater Award for Best Actress in the acclaimed play AIDA, and noteworthy nods for her role in Rent, some might think Simone would automatically assume the role of her mother in a play based on the life of Nina Simone. Not the case. “I want the best people to portray the characters,” Simone insisted. However, she’s remaining open. If she doesn’t find the perfect actress for the role, Simone says hopefully she is able to step up and do what needs to be done. At the end of the day, Simone admitted, “No one can play her like me.”
Most people tend to compare Simone to her mother anyway. “It’s almost like a default,” she said. But that all changes when people meet her and see her perform. “They realize I’ve never attempted to be a carbon copy of my mother. That would be an abomination. There’s only one. You also don’t know who she might have hit over the head with a champagne bottle,” Simone joked.