So many good things happen over coffee, and in the case of the Singing Nina: Cultural Festival and Conference, celebrating the late, great Nina Simone, it happened at the Germantown Espresso Bar, a community space and local hang for creative local minds to find each other. Jazz recording engineer, musician, and all-around master synergy maker Brendan McGeehan, along with David Rose, another creative connector in Germantown and consultant with the Sally Blagg Agency, found themselves discussing an initiative to make Philadelphians aware of the history of singer, pianist, composer, political activist Nina Simone, who stared racist America in the face every single chance she got. (Stop right here and check her out at the 1976 Montreux Jazz Fest).
McGeehan said at first, they considered including the Curtis Institute of Music in the celebration, but then thought, no: Nina Simone’s family had moved to Philly back in the day hoping she could attend Curtis on scholarship, and Simone always felt she had been rejected because she was black. So that idea quickly fell out of favor. Luckily, the project moved forward when McGeehan was in a session with a singer who happened to work with a string ensemble doing Nina Simone’s music. Quickly, the dominos fell into place with RootStock Republic, a New York-based music company built on collaboration and social justice and headed by violinist Juliette Jones.
David Rose and McGeehan finally teamed up with Jim Hamilton, musician and owner of Rittenhouse Soundworks, and a plan took shape to devote an entire day in Germantown to all things Nina.
Starting at 1pm, the People’s Sanctuary, 5507 Germantown Avenue, is screening the acclaimed film What Happened, Miss Simone? which debuted at Sundance in 2015 to tremendous acclaim. Then, at 2:45pm, a panel discussion on this influential woman’s life will take place with noted spoken-word artist Ursula Rucker, bassist Tony “TNT” Jones, and producer/writer Randall Grass. At 4pm, the VIP reception will feature singer M’Balia Singley at the Germantown Historical Society, while another reception will be at the Wyck House for the less well-heeled.
At 7pm, the performance program “Dear Nina: A Sonic Love Letter to Nina Simone,” with Drea D’Nur and Rootstock Republic, will play original arrangements of Nina Simone’s music at Rittenhouse Filmworks at 219 West Rittenhouse Street.
Singing Nina is just one day, but oh, what a lineup of film, music, discussion, and love for a still underappreciated and brave artist who was so ahead of her time.
Tickets are selling fast, so scoop them up: $50 includes the VIP reception and gets you into everything, and $25 includes the Wyck House reception with DJ Rich Medina (playing all things Nina!) and everything else.
Germantown Arts will present “Singing Nina: Cultural Festival and Conference” on Sunday, May 19, from 1 pm through 9 pm at various venues. All venues are near each other and walkable. Tickets are $50 and $25 (includes everything) and they’re available at online and at the door.