How do you fashion an identity in a society that, at every turn, tries to snuff you out? In this article, I address Nina Simone's praxis of renaming and reinvention to demonstrate strategies of resistance. To this point, I analyze the musico-poetic setting of Nina Simone’s songs “Images” (1964) and “Four Women” (1965) to argue that her artistic musical choices sonically orchestrate varying issues of Black female subjectivity, identity, and self-making. In Simone’s songs, she refuses to discount the materiality of the Black body; instead, she envelops the Black body with signifiance and significance. The sonic bearers of semantic content become extensions of the Self—transmutable and heterodox. The compositional and poetic subtleties in these songs claim that the gaze of the Other can potentiate exteriority and freedom—what I term the “exo(p)tic.”
Nina Simone as Poet and Orchestrator: Black Female Subjectivity and the Exo(p)tic in “Images” and “Four Women”
Marcus R. Pyle is assistant professor of musicology at Davidson College. He has served as visiting scholar at MIT and musicology lecturer at Tufts University, and he is a recipient of the Howard Mayer Brown Fellowship from the American Musicological Society and the Dean’s Dissertation Award from NYU. His research centers on depictions of femmes fatales in French and German fin de siècle opera, intersections of gender and sexuality, music and espionage, and African American lives and music.
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Marcus R. Pyle; Nina Simone as Poet and Orchestrator: Black Female Subjectivity and the Exo(p)tic in “Images” and “Four Women”. Journal of Popular Music Studies 1 June 2021; 33 (2): 130–147. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jpms.2021.33.2.130
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