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Nina Simone: Break Down & Let It All Out by Sylvia Hampton with David Nathan

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It’s hard to imagine any literary hell worse than the fawning, fan-written biography. Early on in this saccharine disservice to Simone’s long, complex and utterly fascinating life we learn that co-author Nathan (who five years ago penned an equally effusive tome entitled The Soulful Divas) formed the very first Nina Simone Appreciation Society in 1965 and that Hampton, his baby sister, soon followed in his zealous footsteps. Armed with a thesaurus’ worth of adjectives for “fabulous,” Hampton and Nathan detail every meeting, every airport greeting, every conversation with their beloved, revealing a lot more about themselves and their sadly disproportionate idolization than they do about Simone (clearly not realizing that the average reader could care a whit about the authors’ workaday lives), in the sort of gushy, syrupy prose usually reserved for teenage girls’ diaries.

What little value this obsessive volume does offer comes from the sheer number of face-to-face encounters Hampton and Nathan shared with Simone, allowing the astute reader to read between the overripe lines and extract a fair amount of seemingly credible, first-hand information about the notoriously moody, mercurial artist’s roller-coaster existence. Ironically, this book is precisely the sort of treacle Simone detested and spent her entire professional lifetime avoiding.