Legacy Records delivers on the promise of its namesake by giving us a Nina Simone album for the ages: Forever Young, Gifted & Black: Songs Of Freedom And Spirit, a collection of decisive album cuts (from Black Gold, To Love Somebody, ‘Nuff Said, and Silk And Soul) and rare live performances that distills the black civil rights movement of the ‘60s to its essence, its life force. Even if it was pitched at the level of a reverent whisper, if it came from the mouth of Nina it sounded like a revolution. Indeed, these are not just declarations of freedom and spirit but expressions of devotion to struggle. “To Be Young, Gifted And Black,” the last of Nina’s songs to crack the Billboard pop chart, reveals her gift for complex subversion; the song’s bouncy soundscape suggests a commercial jingle, but what Nina is selling is self-actualization, not soap. She could be joyous—the tribal infusion of the gather-all-ye-faithful “Westwind” and the doo-wop swing of “Revolution (Parts 1 And 2)”—and optimistic—hope springs eternal in performances of “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” and two sly covers, “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)” and “Ain’t Got No - I Got Life” (from the musical Hair), that re-imagine their hippie discontent by giving precedence to her racial struggle—but she could also be angry, and on a monumental rendition of “Mississippi Goddam” her rage is threatening. Like the 12-minute-plus “Why? (The King Of Love Is Dead),” the song was recorded at the Westbury Music Fair on April 7, 1968, three days after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis. She respects King’s non-violent stance (just as she reveres her friend Langston Hughes’s blackness and—implicitly—his gayness on the clever and infectious “Backlash Blues,” among her best but least known live performances), but recognizes that just as there is a season to everything, there is also a breaking point. “I’m not about to be non-violent, honey,” she laughs before delivering a song whose passion cuts like a knife.
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