Arguably one of the most prolific entertainers in recent history, Nina Simone spent her career breaking barriers, shedding light, and fighting necessary battles. Many of which she won. One, however, she fought for many years but ultimately succumbed to; breast cancer.
She died at the age of 70 on April 21, 2003, at her home in Carry-le-Rouet, France. While she may be gone, Simone left a lasting impression on the world of music, art, and activism.
Her career began around 1958 and reached a fever pitch in the ’60s when Simone began singing out loud and clear about civil rights —well after her peers like Harry Belafonte and Sammy Davis, Jr., but still at a relevant enough time when many Black entertainers felt constrained by two worlds: commercial success and social responsibility. Simone melded both together. Sometimes inelegantly but always necessary.
Always one to point out racial disparities through music, her songs often underscored the quiet rage that Black women held due to society’s blatant disregard for their well-being. In an improvised live rendition of her song, Four Women her lyrics spoke to the anguish: “My name is Sarah…my back is strong to take the pain inflicted again and again.”
Her words can still poignantly describe what’s happening to Black women today, especially when it comes to their health.
Simone’s fatal illness, Breast cancer, for example, is diagnosed at lower numbers in Black women, but they have a significantly higher mortality rate than their white counterparts.
Per Cancer Connect:
Black women have the highest breast cancer death rates of all racial and ethnic groups and a 41 percent higher rate of breast cancer death than White women.1,2 That is not a typo—it’s a staggering statistic: Black women with breast cancer are 41 percent more likely to die from the disease than White women. What’s more, African-American women are less likely to survive for five years after diagnosis.3