A sold out crowd fills Kleinhans Music Hall to hear Nina Simone, the incomparable “High Priestess of Soul.” It is not in 1964 when Nina, one of the most lyrical and conscientious singers in American musical history came to Buffalo to perform in concert at the Symphony Circle venue. It is February 24, 2017. Fifty-three years later. On that evening, Drea D’Nur, an amazingly talented young vocalist in her own right, will sit down at the piano on that same stage, and bring us, “The Spirit of Nina Simone,” an epic musical and visual homage to a true musical genius. This promises to be an unforgettable experience.
Drea created this riveting production to honor Ms. Simone in a sophisticated, high-vibrational performance that encompasses various dimensions of Arts, including Music, Dance, Theatre, and Visuals. “I’ve had this idea…this vision… for two years,” Drea told The Challenger. “I kept seeing this billboard, ‘Kleinhans Music Hall’ Presents…( The Spirit of Nina Simone). I decided this year to move forward.”
When that decision was made, everything seemed to fall into place. The venue and date was secured (February 24 is just three days after Nina’s birthday) , a billboard in place, her team identified, tickets on sale, and a wealth of additional talent, available and on board.
The recent release of movies and documentaries about Nina Simone’s life spurred her on; as well as Nina’s “lyrical indictment” of racism in America, which solidly connects her to the current African Americans’ struggle for human/civil rights across the country today. “I have to tell her story here in Buffalo,” said Drea, “Because what she talked about then is happening now…. It has been a journey of the soul for Drea as she spent countless hours researching Nina’s life, and particularly her connection to Buffalo. Drea will walk us through Nina’s presence here in a special visual presentation during the Kleinhan’s stage production.
-Why Nina? Why Now?-
Drea is careful to point out that this is Nina’s show- her spirit, her genius, her story.
“I first heard Nina sing when I was in my 20’s and the song was Strange Fruit(an anti-lynching protest song ),” recalled Drea. “When I heard Nina’s version I said, ‘who is this woman? ‘ I felt it in my soul….”
“ God has blessed me to sing melodically but my strength is in making people feel something, and Nina definitely makes you feel. When I listen to Nina its soul stirring, and that is what I can relate to,” She can also relate to Nina’s fierce, uncompromising support of the civil rights movement. More than any other artist in that era, she used her art as a weapon against oppression.
Drea was doing conscious music long before it was trendy. Her latest video for example, “Break Me Down,” is a powerful statement about a people’s resistance to the tyrannical epidemic of police killings of unarmed African Americans and pays particular homage toEric Gardner, Mike Brown and Sandra Bland – all unarmed; all killed by police.
“I can relate to Nina…I really connect with her as an artist,” commented Drea, adding that no matter what happened inher life – good or bad, “she kept singing.”
-“The Spirit of Nina Simone-
“This is turning into something way bigger than I had anticipated,” continued Drea. “I will be channeling her on stage…bringing her most famous and favorite images to life…
“This is serious to me, I literally eat, sleep, and dream Nina all day…I want it to be in my soul.” Drea said that she is reading Nina’s book again “I Put A Spell on You” and she plans to recreate her look down to the jewelry she wore. “I want to stay as true to her spirit as I possibly can…she was filled with the spirit of our ancestors, such a graceful strength….(when she performed) it was like a powerful force took over her.”
“I sometimes ask myself why I was not born in that (civil rights) era,” she mused. “But I realized that if all of us who can “see” only existed then, there would be no one to fight and carry the torch into this era”. Drea, known for her electrifying live performances, talked at length about things that matter, like unity and respect among Black people; pride and sharing; respect for our ancestors; knowledge of our true history and the importance of teaching our children love for self and one another. And about teaching Nina.
Despite her young age she speaks with the wisdom of an elder. “Nina said that it’s our responsibility as artists to reflect the times…she reminds me that I can bloom where I’ve been planted and that’s what I intend to do with this production at Kleinhans… “Trust and believe the Spirit of Nina will be there.” -a.b.
THE SPIRIT OF NINA SIMONE
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 2017
KLEINHANS MUSIC HALL
TICKETS NOW available at Kleinhans Box Office & Doris Records.