Daughter Of Nina Simone Remakes Her Mother's Classic

Music artist Simone discusses her remake of Four Women, a classic made by her mother, the iconic Nina Simone. The song was also featured in the 1977 Broadway play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. Now the young Simone gives the song an encore in a new film adaptation of the play, titled "For Colored Girls." Host Michel Martin speaks with Simone.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And finally, if your mother is the legendary music icon Nina Simone, it might be daunting, to say the least, to try to follow in her footsteps. But Lisa Celeste, who has adopted the stage name Simone, is an artist all on her own. Armed with incredible vocal range an ear for different genres, Simone has starred on Broadway in such hits as "Aida" and "Rent." Her latest project is a rendition of her mother's classic song "Four Women." It will also be the first time Simone's voice will be heard on the same recording as her late mother's. The song is featured in the soundtrack of the new movie "For Colored Girls," based on the choreopoem by Ntozake Shange. Director Tyler Perry's drama came in third in box office receipts over the weekend, scoring over $20 million.

And Simone joins us now from member station WLRN in Miami.

Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

SIMONE (Singer, Actress): Thank you, Michel. It's good to be here.

MARTIN: So before we start, can we just play a little bit of "Four Women"?

SIMONE: Oh, please do. I'd love to hear it again.

MARTIN: Okay. Great. Here it is.

(Soundbite of song, "Four Women")

Ms. NINA SIMONE (Singer, Songwriter) (Singing) My skin is black. My arms are long. My hair is woolly. My back is strong - strong enough to take the pain inflicted again and again. What do they call me? My name is Aunt Sarah. My name is Aunt Sarah - Aunt Sarah.

SIMONE: (Singing) My skin is yellow. My hair is long. Between two worlds, I do belong. My father was rich and white. He forced my mother late one night. What do they call me? My name is Saffronia.

MARTIN: There we go. I know everybody's going to be mad that we, you know, aren't taking it all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: But, we just - we wanted to hear a little bit and we wanted to hear both divas. So how does it sound? Like it?

SIMONE: Yes, I do. I was just sitting here basking in the glow. It feels so good, and there's just so many things that run through me at the same time when I hear my mother's voice and then my voice, too.

MARTIN: Do you mind telling us, if it's not too personal? I was wondering what you were feeling?

SIMONE: Well, you know, when you've been in the wings for so long - I mean, I watched my mom as a child and sang along and danced and joined her on stage for the first time in my life July 24th, 1999. And now to hear the two of us on a soundtrack as wonderful as this, nothing is in vain.

MARTIN: The collaboration between the generations is something that I think people have heard before. I remember the famous sort Natalie Cole singing with Nat King Cole, doing "Unforgettable," I think a lot of people loved it. But then you have your own, very distinctive style, and clearly your own voice. And I did wonder whether there was anything complicated about it for you revisiting this song, which is so identified with your mother.

SIMONE: Nothing about my mother is complicated for me at this stage in my life, and I've been listening to this song since I was a toddler. So to be able to come to the fore as a legacy of walking, if you will, and to not only sing a song that I've been singing all my life but to also be in the company of such fine young divas, and on top of that, to have my mother's memory being remembered, discussed and honored, it's - this is perfect.

MARTIN: The song was originally released in 1966 as part of your mother's "Wild as the Wind" album.

SIMONE: Yeah.

MARTIN: How did this collaboration come about?

SIMONE: I've been performing "Four Women," actually, around the world since 2004. So to come now and be doing it with mommy as one of the "Four Women," first of all, is really cool. And Ledisi and Laura Izibor really gives it a fresh feeling. You've got some young blood coming to the fore. And the fact that, you know, the history of my mother, there's so much history here. It's really nice to see the younger generation and the people of the now embracing one of our great ones from before.

MARTIN: You know, it's also a very good fit for this film - which is, of course, about the lives of women and different women...

SIMONE: Yes. Yes.

MARTIN: ...and how those lives intersect. And it also is a new generation discovering this work that was so very important to those who came before and...

SIMONE: And those who marched.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

SIMONE: Those who got hosed down. Those who got lynched. Those who couldn't ride in the front of the bus. I mean, when we go back into our history, it's not just the fact of what the song is about, but when it was written why, and not forgetting who we are and where we come from in terms of why we have the freedoms and the rights that we do today.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm visiting with singer and songwriter Simone. She is a diva in her own right, and she's also the daughter of legendary jazz diva Nina Simone. We're talking about her performance of her mother's classic, "Four Women."

I was so tickled to be reminded that before you started your career as a performer, you were a staff sergeant in the Air Force.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMONE: Oh, I was wondering if that was going to come up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I, I...

SIMONE: Yes, I served my country for almost 11 years of my life.

MARTIN: Exactly, so I kind of want to salute across the airwaves.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMONE: Thank you, and it's being returned.

MARTIN: And thank you for your service.

SIMONE: You're welcome.

MARTIN: Is there any part of that experience that you bring to the work you're doing now?

SIMONE: Well, I'd just like to say that it helped me to grow up. I mean, I went in when I was 18, and it was while I was in that I was reunited with my love for singing and realized that I needed to be doing something that made me happy. At the same time, I'll never go hungry. I know how to draft at the drafting board, drive heavy equipment and build a structure from the ground up. I learned a lot of things about being a professional, and also what it takes to work on a team. I think those are qualities that have benefited me and will continue to do so for the rest of my life.

MARTIN: Yes ma'am.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMONE: Forget you, girl.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMONE: You know, my mother lost her mind. She just - if I could just - I can see her face now when I told her that I was going in. And now that I'm a mother and I can look at it from her perspective, I can definitely understand why she had the reaction that she did. So, yeah, that was definitely - I took the circuitous route to come back to who I really am and what makes me happy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Absolutely. And so, just to remind people of your last album, "Simone on Simone."

SIMONE: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: It was a tribute to your mother. So what's next?

SIMONE: I am working on the next project. Oh, my goodness, I am knee-deep. And the last CD, "Simone on Simone," which is my debut, was a homage to my mother in celebration of the one who walked before me. And now I'm getting to myself and my own legacy, my own message. And this new project I'm working on is very much a difference, but still quite classic. And I can't wait to talk more about it. That's going to be when I come up to D.C. and you and I get back together.

MARTIN: That's it. So you'll come and tell us more about the new project.

SIMONE: Oh, yes. Yes. And we'll be playing the cuts and everything. Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: All right. Simone is a singer, songwriter and actress. She is also the daughter of jazz legend Nina Simone. Their combined voices are heard in the new rendition of the classic "Four Women." It's featured on the soundtrack of the new movie "For Colored Girls." Simone joined us from member station WLRN in Miami.

Simone, thank you so much for joining us.

SIMONE: My pleasure.

(Soundbite of song, "Four Women")

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) My skin is pale and my hair is fine. My hips invite you oh, oh, oh and my mouth is like wine. And who's little girl am I?

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and you're listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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