‘High Priestess Of Soul’: The Spiritual R&B Of Nina Simone

‘Nina as you want her – with soul!,’ proclaimed a trade advertisement for the 1967 album.

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Nina Simone 'High Priestess Of Soul' artwork - Courtesy: UMG
Nina Simone 'High Priestess Of Soul' artwork - Courtesy: UMG

Nina Simone was widely hailed as an inspiration in the civil rights era. So it’s all the more poignant that much of her recorded output, especially in the 1960s, didn’t always cross over from the R&B to the popular audience as we would now expect. One such example originates from April 29, 1967. That was when she made the soul chart with an album that didn’t make the pop bestsellers at all, High Priestess Of Soul.

The great singer-songwriter from North Carolina actually made her first LP chart showings on Billboard’s pop listings. They came with the live albums Nina At Newport (1961) and Nina Simone In Concert (1964). Her first entry with a studio album was with I Put A Spell On You, in June 1965, which climbed to No.99.

Nina’s ‘Pastel Blues’

Billboard didn’t publish its first R&B album chart until the beginning of 1965, and the latter LP didn’t appear on it. Then came Pastel Blues, which only reached No.139 on the pop listing, but was the biggest R&B long player she ever had, peaking at No.8. That album included such key tracks as “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out,” “Sinnerman,” and her singular interpretation of “Strange Fruit.”

Subsequent albums made either the pop or soul charts but, oddly, not always both. The aforementioned High Priestess Of Soul was nowhere to be seen in the crossover market, but entered Top Selling R&B LPs at No.29. It spent a further week in the same position before disappearing from the chart.

‘A soul mood that really sticks’

A Philips Records trade advertisement for the album proclaimed “Nina as you want her – with soul!” The Billboard review avowed that Simone “…does her usual fine job but this time adds a soul mood that really sticks.”

Listen to the best of Nina Simone on Apple Music and Spotify.

The record contained Nina’s versions of gospel and soul-pop songs, with two compositions of her own (“Take Me To The Water” and “Come Ya”) and even a version of Chuck Berry’s “Brown Eyed Handsome Man.” The closing track, “I Love My Baby,” was written by the singer’s then-husband, Andy Stroud.

Buy or stream High Priestess Of Soul.

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