Nina Simone: Little Girl Blue

Written by Joseph Li

Pianist and Coach

In category: Song of the Day

Published November 7, 2019

The original Rodgers and Hart tune from their mostly-forgettable musical Jumbo (featuring a flightless elephant unlike the one featured some years later in Disney’s 1941 animated film Dumbo) is a lovely tune.

Nina Simone made it irreplaceable 23 years later.

(Digression: I know there will be Janis Joplin fans in the room screaming bloody murder, but I don’t really care. Must we remain locked so tightly away in our own insecurities that one person’s success must invariably threaten our own, and one person’s experience of art must necessarily invalidate another’s? Can we be done acting like a bunch of superficial idiots and check ourselves into therapy already?)

How Nina Simone connected the dots of hope-starved melancholy between “Good King Wencesclas” and “Little Girl Blue” I’ll never know. I know that marrying jazz with her classical tradition roots was one of her trademark practices, but I have never heard that carol played in such a way, and I can’t help but think of this song any time I hear the carol through the holidays.

The way she takes her time at the end, pleading for someone to send “a tender little blue boy” and closing the song as one does a tender hymn – that’s an emotional space that only music can describe. So listen for yourself.

author: Joseph Li

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Seattle native Joseph Li has played and coached for Houston Grand Opera, Wolf Trap Opera Company, Minnesota Opera, The Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, Opera Lyra Ottawa, Arizona Opera, Opera Birmingham, and the Aspen Opera Theater Center. Last summer at Wolf Trap Opera he conducted Philip Glass’ chamber opera The Fall of the House of Usher in collaboration with the Halcyon Stage in Washington, D.C.; and performed in a two-piano recital alongside Steven Blier, Artistic Director of the New York Festival of Song. Mr. Li joined the faculty of Baylor University’s School of Music in 2016. Recent collaborations include appearances with Minnesota Opera, Arizona Opera, Lone Star Lyric, MATCH Theater, and the Dallas Museum of Art. Hear Joseph Li perform with NYFOS on December 12 in Tain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do: Songs from Gay Harlem.


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