Lorraine Vivian Hansberry was an American playwright, activist, and writer active throughout the middle of the 20th century. She is probably best known for being the first African American female author to have a play performed on Broadway – this of course being her masterpiece, A Raisin in the Sun. What is remarkable about Hansberry’s work is her ability to argue for political, economic, social, racial, and sexual liberation while simultaneously satisfying her own urge for self-expression through aesthetics, almost as if she were walking a political-artistic tightrope. Though her life was cut far too short at the age of 34, Lorraine’s genius inspired everyone around her, particularly in regards to the Civil Rights Movement, and that includes the other artist we will be discussing today, a personal friend of Lorraine’s: Nina Simone.
Eunice Kathleen Waymon, or as we know her, Nina Simone, was an American singer, songwriter, musician, and activist, also active throughout the middle to late 20th century. Simone originally aspired to become a concert pianist, with an aptitude and gift for music that was undeniable to anyone who heard her play, yet as time went on, Nina found herself immersed in the world of jazz, blues, folk, and soul. Her life, much like her performances, was relatively tumultuous, yet Nina left a lasting impression on the world of music, art, and activism, sharing her truth of experience with work that to this day resonates with great emotion and power. There was a resounding strength in everything she sang or played, and her voice both in song and in speech was able to shine a light on black America during and after the Civil Rights Movement. What is not widely known, however, is that without Lorraine Hansberry, the Nina Simone whose unforgettable tenor strikes hard, perhaps might not have become the legend she is today. These two women took their impatience and outrage of the world around them and held it up for everyone to see, no matter the consequence, and their bravery echoes decades later as we embrace the BLM movement.
Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, let’s discuss the lives and legacies of Lorraine Hansberry and Nina Simone.