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Ain’t Got No, I Got Life – Nina Simone plays live in London (1968)

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Playing live in London in 1968, singer, songwriter, and civil rights activist Nina Simone sings a medley of Ain’t Got No, I Got Life, two songs that were originally written for the late 1960s counterculture musical Hair. From Yale Professor of African American Studies Daphne Brooks for Los Angeles Review of Books:

It encompasses a full range of emotions and sociopolitical messages, the emotions and messages she so masterfully translated into a vast repertoire of recordings and live performances, spanning a career of more than four decades. Sitting in at the piano with swinging pendulum earrings, a short ’fro, and a black, strapless crocheted number that reveals the smooth contours of her bare shoulders, the brownness of her body holding center stage, Simone moves with pointed contemplation through one song’s tale of desolation, alienation, and disenfranchisement (“Ain’t got no home / ain’t got no shoes / ain’t got no money / ain’t got no class”) into a different song entirely, one that is a jubilant affirmation of embodied self-possession (“Then what have I got? / Why am I alive anyway? […] I got my arms, got my hands / I’ve got life / I’ve got my freedom”).

Further reading: Nina: Jazz Legend and Civil-Rights Activist Nina Simone, a beautifully-illustrated children’s book from France about how her childhood experiences helped shape her activism.

Next: Nina Simone performs Love Me Or Leave Me on Ed Sullivan.

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