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Nina Simone’s “Four Women”: A timeless anthem for Black women

todayApril 15, 2024

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Nina Simone's "Four Women": A timeless anthem of Black women

In 1966, Nina Simone released “Four Women,” a powerful song that gave voice to the experiences and struggles of Black women in America. The song profiles four distinct characters, each representing a different stereotype: Aunt Sarah, the maternal figure; Saffronia, the tragic mulatto; Sweet Thing, the sexualized object; and Peaches, the angry militant. Through these archetypes, Simone exposed how Black women have been dehumanized, exploited, and oppressed throughout history.

More than half a century later, the impact of “Four Women” continues to resonate. On April 16, 2024, the Milwaukee Repertory Theater will debut the production of “Nina Simone: Four Women,” a play with music that explores the song’s creation and significance. Directed by Malkia Stampley, the play sheds light on how Simone found her true calling as an activist and gave voice to the Civil Rights Movement through her music.

In a conversation about the play, director Malkia Stampley explains, “Nina Simone: Four Women is taking a fictional moment in history moments before Nina Simone wrote ‘Mississippi Goddam,’ the song that propelled her as an activist during the Civil Rights era. We get to see an inside fictional look of what it is to go through a creative process when you are convicted with a purpose, a mission, and charting unknown territory as an artist, forever changing the trajectory of your career.”

The play, set in the aftermath of the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four young Black girls, imagines a conversation between Simone and her four characters. As they grapple with the tragedy and its implications, the women confront issues of colorism, sexism, and internalized racism, revealing the complexities and divisions within the Black community.

Through this fictional encounter, the play highlights the transformative power of Simone’s music. “Four Women” was a song and a rallying cry that challenged the stereotypes and limitations imposed on Black women. By giving each character a distinct voice and story, Simone asserted their humanity and demanded that their experiences be seen and heard.

Today, as the fight for racial and gender equality continues, “Four Women” remains a vital testament to the resilience and strength of Black women. The song speaks to the ongoing struggles against racism, colorism, and gender-based violence that Black women face. It serves as a reminder of their resistance and activism.

Moreover, “Four Women” continues to inspire new generations of Black female artists who, like Simone, use their platforms to celebrate Black womanhood in all its diversity and complexity. From Beyoncé to Janelle Monáe, contemporary artists have embraced Simone’s legacy of using music as a tool for social change and self-expression.

The Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s production of “Nina Simone: Four Women” is a timely reminder of the enduring relevance of Simone’s message. By bringing the song to life on stage, the play invites audiences to confront the painful history of racism and sexism in America and to recognize the ongoing struggle for justice and equality.

At the same time, the play celebrates the beauty, strength, and diversity of Black womanhood. The production showcases the range of Black women’s experiences and the power of their voices through the performances of the four actresses embodying Simone’s characters. It is a tribute to the resilience and creativity of Black women and a call to action for all of us to continue the work of dismantling oppression in all its forms.

In 2024, as we continue to grapple with the legacies of racism and sexism, “Four Women” remains a powerful reminder of the importance of art in the struggle for social justice. Through her music, Nina Simone gave voice to Black women’s pain, anger, and hope and inspired generations to continue the fight for freedom and equality.


Written by: Tarik Moody

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