Beyoncé & The Rock Hall Of Fame Honored Nina Simone Last Night

Photo: David Redfern/Redferns/Getty Images.
In Indio, CA on Saturday night, Beyoncé took a minute during her historical moment as the first Black female headliner of Coachella to pay tribute to a pioneer who came before her, the great Nina Simone. Her timing was perfect: on the night that Simone was finally getting her moment to shine as an inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. That, too, involved an earth-shaking performance by another legend, Lauryn Hill. Or so we hear; in the era of livestreamed everything, the Rock Hall is almost quaint in its insistence on taping its induction ceremony to air later (May 5) on HBO. But the reports, highlight clips, and a few Twitter and Instagram videos coming out of the Public Auditorium were enough to give us secondhand chills.
"Her voice was so distinctive and warm and powerful, I never heard anything like it," Mary J. Blige as she inducted Nina Simone, the singer dubbed the High Priestess of Soul but whose music spanned so many more genres, into the hall. When Simone's brother, Sam Waymon, accepted the long overdue trophy for his sister, who died in 2003, he was reportedly given a time limit for his speech, but went over it, knowing she deserved much more than the three minutes the Rock Hall allegedly allotted.
Yes, her voice was distinctive — you can often identify it with just one note — but there were two women on the stage Sunday night who used their own distinct voices to honor her. Backed by The Roots and buoyed by an impressive beehive of hair, Andra Day sang Simone's versions of "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free" and "I Put a Spell On You," according to
"She is probably one of my biggest inspirations and why I do music," Day told the Rock Hall's red carpet correspondent Carrie Keagan before the ceremony. "A lot of her lyrics and her songs are unfortunately still relevant, but fortunately we have her entire pantheon of music to encourage us and inspire us." reported earlier on Saturday that Hill would appear, but the news was still not official until the moment she took the stage. Hill began with a cover of "Ne Me Quitte Pas," transitioned into "Black Is The Color of My True Love's Hair" (which included some rapping), and finished with "Feeling Good." Hill's outfit — a voluminous purple chiffon ball gown skirt, black and white feathered top, and green and pink headscarf — befitted her dramatic delivery. Simone herself was usually given to more understated gowns for her own appearances, but the headscarf appeared to be an homage to the elegant, Afrocentric hairstyles she favored.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty Images.
Simone was not the only black female legend honored on Saturday. Earlier in the night, Alabama Shakes singer Brittany Howard inducted blues-gospel singer and guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe. In the Rock Hall's 25-year history, by our count this is only the 11th year in which more than one woman made the inductee list. (There have been several years with no female inductees at all, including as recently as 2016.) According to The Fader, 87% of the Hall’s inductees are men or bands led by men.
Many credit Tharpe with introducing guitar to rock ‘n’ roll, and when you read the list of white male artists who said her sound influenced them — Elvis Presley, Eric Clapton, Johnny Cash, Keith Richards — it should be astonishing she isn't more well-known today. Well, it would be astonishing if we weren't already numb to the way these histories get rewritten in every field. Tharpe recorded her biggest hits in the 1930s, but performed until her death in 1970. On the red carpet Questlove said he has been lobbying to get Tharpe inducted into the hall for "at least 12 years."
"She broke all the rules," Howard said on the red carpet. "She played from the souls of her feet to the top of her head."
The Roots accompanied Howard for "Strange Things Happening Every Day," and singer-guitarist Felicia Collins took the mic for "That's All." Paul Shaffer joined in on piano, too, according to Rolling Stone.
Oh, and you may have heard there were a few men around to be inducted too — the Moody Blues, Dire Straits, the Cars, and yes, Bon Jovi, who took up over an hour of the ceremony with speeches and performances. Fans and rock critics have made much about the times the New Jersey rockers were passed over for their induction. This kind of talk took up much of the air in the week leading up to the ceremony — which, to be fair, two deceased women have a hard time doing their own press. But here’s a little perspective on the rockers’ complaints of being overlooked: Bon Jovi have been eligible since 2008 (25 years after their first commercial recording). Nina Simone hit that milestone in 1983.
One woman who did receive the honor earlier in this decade, Heart’s Ann Wilson, was on hand for two special moments in the show. She was officially their to induct her friends, the Moody Blues, but the Seattle musician (along with Alice in Chains' Jerry Cantrell) was also the perfect choice to perform covered “Black Hole Sun” in memory of Chris Cornell.
You're doing better, Rock Hall, but next year, try adding more of these ladies to your list!

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