It was a language that Simone spoke fluently. She was forty-one when she first landed at Robertsfield International Airport, her twelve-year-old daughter Lisa in tow, their belongings—clothes, books, records—packed into the belly of a Pan Am jet. Six years had passed since Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination; nine since Simone had belted out protest songs during the Selma to Montgomery voting-rights march. Although black America still saw her as a talented political performer, a civil-rights revolutionary armed with loud and furious song—“Oh, but this whole country is full of lies, you’re all gonna die and die like flies,” she sang in “Mississippi Goddam,” berating the go-slow politics of the Johnson administration—she had seen little racial progress. Two of the big six were dead, as were her friends Langston Hughes and Malcom X; Huey Newton and Bobby Seale were in jail. The rhythm of the civil-rights movement had ebbed, and Simone wondered if her cris de coeur for a more just racial order had fallen short. “The America I’d dreamed of through the sixties seemed a bad joke now, with Nixon in the White House and the black revolution replaced by disco,” she wrote in her memoir, I Put a Spell on You.
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