Heather Buffington Anderson
University of Texas
Heather Buffington Anderson is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in historical musicology at the University of Texas. She holds a Master of Music in musicology from King’s College London, and a BM in music performance from the University of Northern Colorado. Her dissertation topic explores the intersection of jazz and activism within the Civil Rights and Black Arts Movements.
Talk Title: ‘Everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam!’ – Linking Nina Simone’s Activism and Inclusion in the Jazz Community
Nina Simone was peripherally associated with jazz music from the outset of her career. Though she performed in a wide range of styles, Simone was primarily promoted as a “jazz singer,” a label she rejected throughout her career. In her early reviews, jazz critics seemed to agree. Citing her “growling,” “abrasive” voice and her “classical phrasing and articulation” within her piano playing, they questioned her place within the jazz idiom. The 1964 release of her composition “Mississippi Goddam,” could in many ways be heard as a confirmation of her distance from jazz aesthetics. Regardless of a marked shift in her repertory and performance style, Simone continued to be featured in jazz venues and festivals.
Following the release of her protest anthem and increasing association with Civil Rights organizations SNCC and CORE, Simone was featured in several jazz festivals including the Newport Jazz Festival in 1966 and the Longhorn Jazz Festival in 1967 in Austin, Texas. This paper examines connections between Simone’s Civil Rights activities, her inclusion in jazz festival performances and jazz critics’ reevaluation of her position within the jazz community. It also proposes that the increase in Simone’s headline appearances at jazz festivals is directly linked to her activism and the reception of her protest songs. Prof. Anderson argues that jazz festivals provided a space and opportunity for Simone to extend her activism and voice her political views. Working with documents from the Rod Kennedy Presents archive from the Briscoe Center for American History, there will be a prime focus on Simone’s performance and reception at the Longhorn Jazz Festival.