Rock Hall of Fame Undermines Nina Simone Even as It Honors Her

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The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has announced its inductees for 2018, and, apart from the dad-rock bands like Dire Straits and Moody Blues, the cool dad-rock band The Cars, and uh, Bon Jovi, the Hall has decided to honor two black women whose contributions to American music and culture have been massive: pianist, singer, and activist Nina Simone, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the singer and guitarist known as the “godmother of rock and roll.”


While Simone (who was nominated for the first time this year since she was eligible in 1986, which, huh?) will be getting the traditional inductee treatment, Tharpe is being included in the Early Influences wing, joining seminal pioneers like Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, Bessie Smith, and Howlin’ Wolf.

Interestingly, however, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s description of Simone is as follows:

Nina Simone’s unapologetic rage and accusatory voice named names and took no prisoners in the African-American struggle for equality in the early 1960s. Her triumphant voice sang what it meant to be young, gifted and black in a sometimes unjust and troubled world.

Where to begin? Simone’s “rage” was part of her music, and it was unapologetic—songs like “Mississippi Goddamn” and “Pirate Jenny” confronted the realities of racial injustice in America with the vivid fury that they warranted. But the use of “accusatory” seems strange and reductive, implying that her anger wasn’t justified or warranted, in a way that undermines the power of her music and raises the uncomfortable specter of the “angry black woman” stereotype. It also overlooks the wide variety of music she created. And don’t even get me started on the idea that the world she lived in was only “sometimes” unjust.

Despite this narrow characterization of Simone, one can only hope that the actual ceremony next year will provide a more balanced message about the iconic and groundbreaking performer. And either way, it’s great that Simone and Tharpe are finally getting the recognition they deserve.

Isha is a staff reporter who covers pop culture, representation in media, and your new faves.