By Ernie McCray
I’m not, necessarily, one for seeing movies or plays or other things that are staged more than once unless there’s something really special about it. That being said I can’t wait to take in my friend Calvin Manson’s wonderfully soulful musical “Don’t Let me Be Misunderstood” again.
I highly recommend this beautifully crafted piece of theater because it’s so personal to me. It features the songs of one of my show-people-heroes, Nina Simone. This inimitable singer and pianist not only dazzled the world with her sultry sincere soulful voice but she also, at the same time, actively pursued dreams of that world being one where all people live in freedom. With dignity. Like Robeson and Belafonte. That kind of service to humanity resonates deeply within me.
I love that woman. Her “Mississippi Goddam” speaks to all the emotions that coursed through me when my mother and I traveled down south when I was but a boy. She sings:
Alabama’s got me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi
All of Dixie had little-boy-me upset and restless with anxiety as we rolled along at the back of the bus where nobody sat but us and having spent some time in Mississippi in the 40’s and early 50’s all I can say about a degree of racism that seemed to choke the oxygen out of the air there is “Goddam!”
But Nina stood up to such societal nonsense with these words in her song:
They try to say its a communist plot
All I want is equality
for my sister my brother my people and me
Nina was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina. And she has always been the real thing. Both musically and politically. In her concert debut, a classical recital, she found out that her parents, who had taken seats in the front row, were forced to move to the back of the hall to make way for white people. She refused to play another note until her parents were moved back to the front. Bold move, for a twelve year old. And she played that role until she died.
Like most people Nina had some wonderful moments in her life and she had her demons. “Don’t Let Me be Misunderstood” covers it all. It’s a wonderful tribute to a unique entertainer – protest singer, jazz singer, pianist, arranger, composer – who absolutely defies easy classification.
One can see the show at:
ECC (Education Cultural Complex)
4343 Oceanview Blvd
San Diego, CA 92113
October 25th through November 10th.
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM
Sunday Matinee, Sunday, November 10th, 2:30 PM