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What Happened, Miss Simone?: A Biography

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  568 ratings  ·  57 reviews
Inspired by the Academy Award-nominated Netflix documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?, an intimate and vivid look at the legendary life of Nina Simone, the classically trained pianist who evolved into a chart-topping chanteuse and committed civil rights activist. 
From music journalist and former Spin and Vibe editor-in-chief Alan Light comes a biography of incandescent
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published February 9th 2016 by Crown Archetype (first published November 17th 2015)
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3.74  · 
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 ·  568 ratings  ·  57 reviews

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Dec 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Nina Simone newbies and die hard fans
Recommended to Jaidee by: about time I read about this musical godess
Shelves: five-stars-books
5 "the way musical biography was meant to be" stars !!!

6th Favorite Read of 2017 (tie)

Before we begin...I NEED you to listen to the genius of Nina Simone.

I heard this in Sicily in an old hotel when I was 21 with a Russian girlfriend that I adored. She put this on one night and I was so shaken and moved by the misunderstood jazz singer that I could not do anything but be amazed, drink Marsala and hold my girl's hand while tears streamed down my face.

Here is the song:
Rebecca McNutt
What Happened, Miss Simone? is an incredible story of resilience, music and fighting for what you believe in. It's an amazing story and I loved it.
Jan 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Ashley by: Alan Light
I got this in the mail and thought wow I know this looks familiar... I then realized the Documentary!! Wow I was so happy to see this!! It's a goodreads giveaway and I am so happy to have gotten this!!!
(I got this copy in pretty bad shape... cover bent completely over,pages crunched, back cover TORN OFF... but i am very happy for the opportunity to read this......)I'm going to pass it on to everyone I can... GREAT BOOK!!!!

This is the story of Mrs. Nina Simone. A very Unique, Creative, Tortured,
From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week:
Inspired by the Oscar-nominated TV documentary, Alan Light's biography draws on Nina Simone's early diaries, rare interviews, childhood journals and input from her daughter Lisa Simone Kelly to paint a picture of the classically-trained pianist who became a soul legend, a leading civil rights activist and one of the most influential artists of our time.

Episode One
"I was born a child prodigy darling. I was born a genius." Nina Simone

Music journalist Alan Light
Dec 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
What Happened, Miss Simone? What a great title for a book that tells a heartbreaking story of a fantastic singer. Alan Light writes the biography of Nina Simone taking the reader from Miss Simone's hardscrabble childhood through her musical talent and genius to the end of her sad life. Such talent must have made it very difficult for her to adjust to the everyday workings of life. Maybe that is why she seemed unable to fit into her own skin nor to find the love which she needed so badly.
I was a
Sep 11, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was a frustrating biography to read. The author, Alan Light had access to all of Miss Simone's diaries and correspondence and the cooperation of the family...but this led to him only interviewing a handful of people (presumably) okay-ed by the family. So it was the same five voices over and over and little from outside sources and indeed no third-party research. I read a lot of biographies so I guess I have higher standards than most and this was really lacking.

I recommend instead the compa
This was really interesting and it didn't sugarcoat anything. The writing itself was a little on the dry side but I'm looking forward to watching the documentary.
Beatriz Fernandes
Mar 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I recommend reading this before you watch the documentary with the same title. Despite being written after and because of that film - the director asked the author if he was interested in writing it - it has, naturally more information, which makes easier to understand the movie (that has one or two moments when the facts are not chronologicaly); also, the documentary will play as a resume of what you just read. I do recommend both because they give you insights almost exclusive of each format: ...more
Mar 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: BBC Radio Listeners

Description: Inspired by the Oscar-nominated TV documentary, Alan Light's biography draws on Nina Simone's early diaries, rare interviews, childhood journals and input from her daughter Lisa Simone Kelly to paint a picture of the classically-trained pianist who became a soul legend, a leading civil rights activist and one of the most influential artists of our time.

Music journalist Alan Light is the author of The Holy of the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff
Malcolm Marshall
Dec 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
I can't remember exactly when I first heard a Nina Simone record, but it was some time in the early 1980s. It could have been in a nightclub or played on friend's record player. Being pre-internet we had no idea who she was or anything about her life. It was only when a someone told me that I realised that she was playing the piano as well as singing - the extent of her genius really hit home.

There's a line in 'One Day' that says something like ' in a student flat in Edinburgh in the 1980's you
Sep 05, 2017 rated it liked it
I've been a Nina fan for about half my life, the highlight of that capped early when I saw her in concert in 1998. I knew very little about her reputation, her history and her life. When she died I learnt a bit more through the obits. This book told me stuff I really had no idea about, particularly her struggles with mental health problems that made her at turns violent, paranoid, mean and needy. It can't have been easy to be around her.

Nina Simone was a fierce genius and I would have liked more
Don Gorman
Aug 11, 2016 rated it it was ok
(2) Nina Simone is an important part of music history. She was renowned for her unruly personality as much as her amazing talent. This book does and does not explain a lot of that. Her family background and life history makes for a reasonable story, but some of it does feel very strange to today's reader. The abuse she endured, from the outside and self inflicted , is overwhelming, and her actions at time were unjustifiable. Her involvement in the civil rights and other social movements were wel ...more
Jeff Howells
May 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm not one for hero worship, but Nina Simone is definitely one of the few who I hold above everyone else. She's my favourite female singer by a country mile and she is responsible for my favourite ever song (the one I would take, above all others, to a desert island). Yet strangely her legacy has not been treated well: there are a plethora of greatest hits knocking around but it's not easy to get hold of the albums she released in her lifetime.
This is the accompanying book to the Netflix docum
Jul 02, 2017 rated it liked it
I wish I had realized that Nina Simone had written her own memoir. I would've chosen to read it first. This biography is very thoroughly researched and includes many interviews from people who knew Simone and were close to her, and it did give me a pretty good overview of Simone's life. The author, Alan Light, though, is incapable of understanding the nuance of Simone's civil rights work or her sexuality. Light fails to comprehend (and therefore convey) the exhaustion and emotional toll that bei ...more
Nov 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-music
A quick read that gives the reader a fairly good idea of Nina Simone’s life. There are probably more detailed biographies out there, but for what it is, it’s a decent read - it never hovers on any particular part in depth. Packed with first hand accounts - interviews, letters - it serves as what I felt to be a well rounded account of not only Nina Simone, but those in her life. What honestly really struck me the most about the book was how it talked about mental illness - from the perspective of ...more
Dec 31, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
That Nina Simone was a powerful artist is surety to anyone who has listened to her music with any concentrations. Alan Light biography tells an unflinching story of the artist behind the music.

Nina Simone was a special talent, but also an especially difficult person to those whose lives he touched. Based on interviews, diaries and journals Alan Light's biography tracks her life from childhood to stardom to later troubled life. It does not steer away from how troubled and problematic person Simon
Matt Medeiros
Aug 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Tristan Eagling
Jan 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Great book providing a slightly more grounded view of Nina's life than her autobiography. Although does not go into as much detail about the civil rights movements and her views as I would have liked.
Jan 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Greb Grebreblis
Jul 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
I hate the title because to me it implies that Nina Simone's evolution was caused by other factors and not by the maturing of one of the 20th century great artists.

Mississippi, goddamn!
Jan 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I love this book
This book is fantastic
May 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Probably as close as anyone will get to writing a definitive biography of Nina Simone and certainly more reliable than her autobiography.
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great read. Brought to light a number of things I hadn't realised about Nina Simone. Couldn't put it down.
Phil Brett
Apr 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Superb biography. One of the best I’ve read, and one which inspired me to again listen to Simone’s wonderful albums. The documentary is also well worth getting.
Wow! Time well spent. Glad to have met Miss Simone.
Apr 20, 2018 rated it liked it
A fascinating (and clearly well researched) insight into the life and times of the volatile, yet always compelling, Nina Simone.
Carla Cherry
Jan 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating portrait of a gifted artist.
Joanne Kozicki
Apr 18, 2019 rated it liked it
How sad a like for someone so talented
Mar 18, 2016 rated it liked it
"I was born a child prodigy, darling. I was born a genius." Humility was something that Nina Simone never worried about. From the time she began playing for her mother's church services, she had an instinctive grasp of what it took to sway a crowd. She started with the piano at home, but the community soon became involved and that led to more opportunities as she found instructors and supporters. After being passed over for a scholarship to study at Curtis as a classical pianist, she found her w ...more
Feb 05, 2016 rated it liked it
What do you know about Nina Simone? For my admiration of her and her music, I didn’t know all that much, and thought a book like this would be informative. Yes, this is a beginning to end biography, but feels like a series of events strung together, without any deep analysis. “What Happened, Miss Simone?” covers her tumultuous life, if brushing lightly over some heavy, serious incidents. I think this is a fair depiction of the woman, not entirely sympathetic for giving so much attention to her w ...more
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A veteran music journalist, ALAN LIGHT is the author of The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah" and Let's Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain. Light was previously the editor-in-chief of Vibe and Spin and a senior writer for Rolling Stone. He is also a frequent contributor to the New York Times.
“She may have discovered how to solve the problem of aviation in music. What makes an aviator what he is? An aviator is a person who deals with getting heavier-than-air objects off the ground. She could do that, musically and emotionally. She could take a feeling and actually lift it off the ground, and it would stay there.” 1 likes
“There is something about a woman,' said comedian and activist Dick Gregory. “If you look at all the suffering that black folks went through, not one black man would dare to sing ‘Mississippi Goddamn.’ Not one black man would say what Billie Holiday did about being lynched [in “Strange Fruit”]-they wasn’t lynching women, they was lynching men, but it was women that talked about it, and nobody told them to talk about it. No manager going to tell you to talk about this, it’s just something inside them.” 1 likes
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