Sings the Blues

Sings the Blues

The title of Nina Simone’s 1967 RCA debut, Nina Simone Sings the Blues, implies a back-to-basics approach—and, in some ways, that’s the through line of this timeless set. The songs are, naturally, mostly blues, with both new compositions like “Do I Move You?” and “Blues for Mama”; standards like “The House of the Rising Sun” and “Since I Fell for You”; and homages to Simone’s blues-queen forbearers, with renditions of works made famous by Lil Green (“In the Dark”) and Bessie Smith (“I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl”). And, in contrast to a number of Simone’s more heavily orchestrated mid-1960s albums, the playing on Nina Simone Sings the Blues is pared down and live-sounding, centered on the heavyweight grooves of drummer Bernard Purdie, as anchored by Simone’s inescapable dynamism. Yet the album’s seemingly simple blues theme didn’t stop Simone from stretching out with characteristic emotion and musical complexity, and there’s nothing rudimentary here about her piano-playing and singing. For proof, consider her jaw-dropping take on the Porgy and Bess number “My Man’s Gone Now”: According to one biography, it was recorded in a single, spontaneous take—one that still sounds startlingly new and ambitious. And while Simone never shied away from musical confrontation, Nina Simone Sings the Blues showcases her brashness. Its opening track, “Do I Move You?”, is an almost-accusatory demand of her listeners: “Do I groove you, is it thrillin’?” Simone asks with unflinching directness—and with a knowing wink, fully aware of the voyeuristic pleasure her often-white audiences took in the subversion of her onstage expressiveness. And “Backlash Blues,” the lyrics of which are drawn from one of Langston Hughes’ last poems, is an unforgettable rebuke of the American political status quo. “It was his final slap in the face of the white backlash of this country,” Simone told the crowd before performing the song at the Newport Jazz Festival, a few months before the album was released (and less than two months after Hughes’ death). “Do you think that all colored folks are just second-class fools?” she asks over a classic blues groove, easily cutting to the heart of the form and its significance.

Select a country or region

Africa, Middle East, and India

Asia Pacific


Latin America and the Caribbean

The United States and Canada