Best-selling poet Nikki Giovanni has opened up about her close friendship with Nina Simone, and what the singer would have thought of today’s racial and political climate. According to Giovanni, the deeply political singer would have joined the Black Lives Matter movement if she were still alive.
The 73-year-old writer, academic, and activist recently published a book of poetry called “The Genie in the Jar” which incorporates some lyrics from Simone’s music. In an interview with The Root, she talked about her connection to Simone’s music, and how the singer’s commitment to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s was reflected in her words.
“I prefer her jazz period much more so than her folk period,” Giovanni said.
“I knew Stokely [Carmichael] and them, but when you got to that, you saw that she started to take up their burden. She started to preach for them. She was taking on the burden of ‘I want to tell the people.”
When asked about our current civil rights movement, commonly referred to as the “Black Lives Matter” movement, Giovanni said that she is proud of the efforts young black people are making today to fight against police brutality and other forms of oppression.
“If Nina were here,” Giovanni added, “She’d have her Black Lives Matter [T-shirt] on... These are great young men and women, and they’re bold, and they are saying to America, ‘Something’s going to change.’”
Of course, it’s no surprise that Giovanni feels Simone would have joined the Black Lives Matter movement. The singer was outspoken throughout her career on the subject of Civil Rights for black people, writing songs like “Backlash Blues,” “Mississippi Goddamn” and “Young, Gifted And Black” to raise awareness about American racism and also promote black self love. Her activism was intrinsically tied to her artistry, and as she once said:
“An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times...That to me is my duty. And at this crucial time in our lives, when everything is so desperate, when every day is a matter of survival, I don’t think you can help but be involved.”