Considering that she passed away more than 10 years ago, recorded her last album in 1993 and never had a major hit, Nina Simone continues to exert a surprisingly powerful pull on popular culture.
Her songs appear frequently in commercials and TV shows, and a controversial biopic of her starring Zoe Saldana has been in the works for years.
This week another iconoclastic musician -- singer and bass player Meshell Ndegeocello -- pays tribute to Simone with a concert at Lincoln Center based on her 2012 album of Simone covers "Pour Une Âme Souveraine."
amNewYork spoke with Ndegeocello.
What drew you to Simone?
I didn't hear her music until the '90s, when I was in my early 20s. Once I did, I realized it was something that had to be part of my life. It was revolutionary soul music. Something about her voice and political stance spoke to me. She was a very powerful woman, and very complicated.
How do you tackle such iconic songs and performances?
I don't think about that. There's no comparison. The thing I like most about her is her ability to take a song and make it her own. Take "Suzanne." I love Leonard Cohen, but her song is the quintessential version because she was a great interpreter. That's what I try to do as well. You're not going to see me put on a Nina Simone revival.
You've performed with big names, from Mick Jagger to Madonna. Does that make it easier to approach an icon like Simone?
I've met a lot of famous people. At the end of day, they're just people. ? Mick Jagger's great, but I know some bluesmen that blow him away.
Are you working on any new material of your own?
"Comet, Come to Me" [from 2014] was the last incarnation of what people consider Meshell Ndegeocello. ... I was nominated for two Grammys for things I produced, so I'm hoping that avenue opens up for me.
Is there any artist you dream of producing?
I love Rihanna and I would love to do a Lee Scratch Perry-esque dub-by record with her.