By the time Bob Dylan had released his third album, The Times They Are A Changin’ in January 1964, he had already become the voice of a generation – he was just 22 years old. Folk singers, singing protest songs, political songs and songs about the plight of the ordinary people gave the serious young adult something with substance as an antidote to empty Teenage Pop and Rock & Roll. A young white kid from the Mid West singing about poor people or black people was extraordinary, becoming famous was unimaginable.
At some point in Dylan’s trajectory other artists started to take note and took the opportunity to share Dylan’s clear and powerful message by covering his songs. One person that did that was Eunice Kathleen Waymon, otherwise known as Nina Simone. A fighter for the rights of her people, she was a child prodigy pianist blessed with a striking voice that grew strong despite her poor upbringing in North Carolina.
After being denied entry into the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia because she was black, she began playing a Jazzy, Bluesy, Protest music of her own in small clubs. Her grounding in classical music gave her great understanding of space and dynamics and all this blended with Gospel and R&B put us in direct contact with her soul – you simply couldn’t avoid being affected by her and consequently she carved out her own unique niche, blazing her own path and gaining great acclaim. She also worked as an untiring civil rights activist right through till her death in 2003.
On this second track from Dylan’s third album, Ballad Of Hollis Brown, Dylan sang about a starving South Dakota family that out of desperation and to stop their suffering, the father shoots them all. Only Nina Simone could make Dylan’s songs sound even more meaningful than him. This video from 1965 shows the force that is Nina Simone.