Study Guide

Sinnerman Introduction

Sinnerman Introduction

In a Nutshell

"I feel emotion is dying, what we feel is dying, everything is so orderly," Nina Simone said in an interview in 1965. "Raising your voice has become a crime! I want to evoke joy, sadness, pain..." (Source)

Although Nina Simone was deeply embroiled in the Civil Rights Movement and undergoing a political awakening of her own in the mid-1960s, the last thing she wanted to do was write predictable protest songs that summed up the experience of being a Black woman in a couple of minutes that made for easy radio play. Instead, she recorded song after song that defied categories in favor of evoking intense emotions. And she rarely settles for a single emotion, but manages an enchanting mixture of anger, delight, loss and rage. 

"Sinnerman," a ten-minute tour de force based on a traditional spiritual song is just the noisy rollercoaster of joy, sadness, and pain she was going for. What, if anything, is expressed by the song's frenetic noisemaking?

About the Song

ArtistSimone, Nina
Year1965
LabelPhilips Records
Writer(s)Traditional/Unknown
Producer(s)Hal Mooney
Musician(s)Nina Simone (piano, vocals, arrangement), Al Schackman (guitar, harmonica), Rudy Stevenson (guitar, flute), Lisle Atkinson (bass), Bobby Hamilton (drums)
Learn to play
AlbumPastel Blues

Music Video

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Influences on Simone, Nina

Billie Holiday
Bessie Smith
Marian Anderson
Bach
Chopin
Beethoven
Liszt
Debussy

Influenced by Simone, Nina

Mary J. Blige
Alicia Keys
India Arie
Nora Jones
John Lennon
Marlon Riggs
Peter Gabriel
Tony Banks
Aretha Franklin
Richie Havens
Sade
Beth Waters
See more artists who have been influenced by Nina Simone here.

Sinnerman Resources

Books

David Brun-Lambert, Nina Simone: The Biography (2009)
A detailed recent biography of the late musician.

Nadine Cohodas, Princess Noire: The Tumultuous Reign of Nina Simone (2010)
The author tapped into new sources to write the latest and greatest Nina Simone retrospective.

Nina Simone and Stephen Cleary, I Put A Spell On You: The Autobiography of Nina Simone (1991)
An honest record of Simone's early life and rise to stardom.

Albums

Best of Nina Simone (1990)
All the most famous Nina Simone tunes in one place.

Pastel Blues (1965)
The original album containing "Sinnerman."

Various artists, Verve Remixed (2005)
This is the place to get the Felix da Housecat remix of Sinnerman, plus dozens of other songs that blend jazz and blues with electronic beats.

Images

Pastel Blues cover
Simone's arresting gaze dominates the cover of her seventh studio album.

Album cover
This is from Nina Simone's first album.

Candid portrait
Simone with a cigarette.

Nina Simone in the Black Power era
She started wearing her hair "natural" (not straightening or pulling it back), making a strong statement about black identity.

Movies & TV

Nina (forthcoming)
This biopic starring Mary J. Blige is expected to come out in 2012.

Nina Simone Live (2005)
This 60-minute DVD offers a rare view of Nina Simone performing live in 1961 and 1962.

Websites

The Nina Simone Web
This unofficial site archives interviews, obituaries, song lyrics and more.

The Nina Simone Database
Yet another unofficial site contains an extensive biography, a list of books about Nina Simone, and a section of interesting concert reviews from late in Simone's life.

Nina Simone interview in exile
Simone gave an interview to Details Magazine in 1997 that shows her every bit as tough as her Black Power era self—and perhaps even a bit more bitter.

Video & Audio

"Sinnerman"
Just the original track.

Felix da Housecat: "Sinnerman" Remix
The three-minute music video is all about various dudes running a race—and losing.

"Downpressor Man" by Peter Tosh
On his album Equal Rights, Peter Tosh transforms the "sinner man" into the Downpressor Man—another way of saying, the oppressor-man. Where you gonna run to?

"Golliwog's Cakewalk" by Claude Debussy
Still feeling confused about how classical music influenced "Sinnerman"? Listen to French composer Debussy strut his stuff and you may start to see a connection. Nina Simone performed this song as a teenager.

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