Nina Simone Forever Young, Gifted & Black / The Soul of Nina S

One of the fiercest personalities to grace a stage in the 20th Century, Nina Simone embodied an unmatched artistic diversity that combined the sweet sounds of gospel and soul with a fiery attitude and staunch political core in a way that continues to touch people to this day. While countless collections already exist documenting nearly every aspect of the singer’s career, two recent releases offer some very special rare gems that should please both the uninitiated and Simone completists. The first, Forever Young, Gifted & Black, deals exclusively with the artist’s most political period and features a number of her classics in their original forms, including the complete version of the riotous "Mississippi Goddam” with Simone stoking the audience between verses. Also appearing is the entire 13-minute version of "Why? (The King Of Love Is Dead),” written and recorded a mere three days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The monologue that begins this previously unreleased take gives an emotional glimpse at the singer’s desperation in the aftermath of King’s death. As a perfect companion, The Soul of Nina Simone, released in dual disc format, offers up rare video images taken directly from that troubled period. Beginning with Simone’s first national televised performance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1960, the DVD side also contains her appearance at New York’s Bitter End Café in ’68, and an intense showing at 1969’s "Black Woodstock,” the Harlem Festival. Though there is nothing particularly new to be found on the audio side, this rare footage is well worth the price of admission. (Sony BMG)