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This story was published before Summer 2021, when we launched our new digital experience.

The Many Faces of Nina Simone

A new documentary on Netflix focuses on the singer's personal struggles, political beliefs, and music.

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In a 1970 profile of Nina Simone for Redbook magazine, Maya Angelou posed the question that gave filmmaker Liz Garbus’s new documentary on the musician its title: What Happened, Miss Simone? Angelou was seeking the root causes of Simone’s notorious volatility. Garbus’s incisive film, now on Netflix, finds answers to that question in Simone’s youth as a piano prodigy in the Jim Crow South, her tumultuous marriage, her passionate stance on civil rights, and what we might today diagnose as bipolar disorder. For all the offstage drama, relayed mostly by friends and family, the documentary’s greatest strength is its focus on what mattered most to Simone: the music.

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