The late Nina Simone’s performance at Montreux Jazz Festival in 1976 was a historic one thanks to a powerhouse performance that was memorable for a plethora of reasons—but her tribute to both David Bowie and Janis Joplin in the headline is the standout moment.
Simone and Bowie had struck up a strong friendship a prolonged period of time, years of companionship had led up to her set at Montreux which, in turn, resulted to the Englishman covering Simone’s glorious ‘Wild Is Wild’ for his Station To Station album in 1976.
Bowie played a key role in resurrecting Simone’s career, one which was going through a minor slump in 1974 which was when they first met. Their accidental meeting came about just a week after Simone took her daughter to watch him at Madison Square Garden when she attended New York members club as did Bowie. When Simone walked past his table to leave the venue, he invited her to sit down — they then exchanged phone numbers and stayed in touch.
Two years later, when she performed at Montreux, a confusing moment arrived in the set when Simone assumed that David would be in attendance as he had recently moved to Blonay. She then got somewhat upset when she asked if he was there, expecting him to come from the audience, but in fact, he wasn’t even at the venue.
After the crowd informed her that Bowie isn’t there, she furiously retorts, “David Bowie is my dear friend, he lives with you and I wanted to know if he was here. He’s not here obviously, he’ll still be driving from some damn place because if David was here, he’d tell me he was here.”
Earlier on in the very same set, Simone couldn’t help but share her thoughts on a recent documentary she had seen about Janis Joplin who had died from a heroin overdose six years earlier. The film had obviously stuck with the singer as she could relate to certain aspects of the industry which hurt Joplin as it hurt her over her career.
“You know I’ve made 35 albums but they bootlegged 70, everybody took a chunk of me. Yesterday I went to see Janis Joplin’s film and what distressed me the most, I started to write a song about it but I decided you weren’t worth it because I figured most of you are here for the festival,” the singer stated.
“Anyway the point is that it pained me to see how hard she worked because she got hooked into a feeling and it wasn’t on drugs — she got hooked into a feeling and she played to corpses, if you know what I mean,” Simone added before bursting into a fit of laughter when she looked at the corpses who were watching on at her as she spoke.
Check out the two clips below which capture Simone at her unfiltered best which goes way some way into explaining her unique genius that made her the star she was.