Capturing the true spirit of singer, pianist, and activist Nina Simone is no easy feat, given that she was known for constantly moving boundaries both musical and political. But having spent years performing Simone’s music—and having a personal connection to her—Ledisi could be rightfully touted as the heir to her “High Priestess of Soul” title.
Ledisi credits Simone’s music for saving her life, recalling in this album’s liner notes, “I heard her when I was still very young—in Oakland in my twenties. I was depressed, my life was a mess, and I heard her on the radio singing ‘Trouble in Mind.’ … [T]hat song woke me up … Nina’s voice said to me I was not alone.”
That memory fuels Ledisi Sings Nina, in which she renders seven of Simone’s classics. Ledisi’s a cappella intro to “Feeling Good” hits you in the face like ice-cold water, and she scats like she invented scatting, all backed by the world-renowned Metropole Orkest.
On the Spanish-tinged standard “Wild Is the Wind,” she exercises her lower vocal range to match Simone’s; this is the album’s only live recording from her 2020 PBS special broadcast tribute to Simone. On “Four Women,” arguably one of the most controversial Simone hits, which celebrates Black women and condemns their societal stereotypes, Ledisi teams up with vocalists Lisa Fischer, Lizz Wright, and Alice Smith. Their vocal ranges and styles are different yet meld perfectly.
Ledisi never dares to imitate Simone’s singing; her focus is on keeping Simone’s energy alive. Throughout this otherworldly recording, she maintains her identity, while proving that she can hold her own in multiple genres, just like Nina.