One day I was walking through Blanchard and saw a vendor selling second-hand clothes and vinyl LP records. I just recently bought a record player and was immediately drawn to the sweetest bait: worn-out boxes of gorgeous vinyl LPs that contain some of the best music in the world. The first vinyl LP I laid my hands on was Nina Simone Sings Billie Holiday: Lady Sings the Blues. It smelled dusty and inviting like a timeless novel passed down through generations. I am a fan of Billie Holiday but hadn’t really heard much of Nina Simone’s music until the beginning of this semester in my class “Hip-Hop and Sexuality” with Professor Bettina Judd.
In our first class, we explored some of the inspiration that stimulated the rise of hip-hop. Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” took over the corridors of the vacant building with her enchanting, silky voice. So when I came across this LP in Blanchard, I knew I could not walk away from the combination of Nina Simone’s voice and Billie Holiday’s songs in the way that they were originally meant to be heard and enjoyed.
The first song on the record, and one of my favorites, is “Tell Me More and More and Then Some.” This song is one of Holiday’s many jazz singles that have been covered over and over again. It is all about being told that you’re loved.
Another song that I have recently rediscovered is the classic “Strange Fruit.” Although I’ve only fallen in love with this song again because I heard Kanye West sample it in an extremely disrespectful manner on his single “Blood on the Leaves,” the grief behind this song remains arresting to date. This beautiful song expresses the pains of racism, especially in regards to the lynching of African-Americans in the South and became an epitomic protest song for the Civil Rights Movement.
While I was standing in Blanchard and staring at this record, I shuffled my keys and change in my pocket. The main reason that I was hesitating to open my wallet was that my record player was home in Dubai so I wouldn’t be able to hear the record till May. Also, as a college student, I was contemplating spending money on something that wasn’t very practical, but appealed to my heart and soul. I bought the record anyway.
I quickly tweeted a picture to my hip-hop class and wrote “Guilty (but not really) purchase #hiphopsexmhc.” My professor favorited my tweet, retweeted it and replied, “No guilt. Good buy. Can I hold it for a minute?”
I laughed at the realization that even without listening to the record, my professor and I had so much trust and awe in Nina Simone’s cover of these masterpiece songs. It wasn’t as much about the songs themselves. Instead, it was about the convergence of two great artists that play such an important role in the history of the world and the history of our love for music.
Ailsa has her show G Marks the Spot on Tues. from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.