29. Nina Simone
February 21st, 1933 (died April 21st, 2003)
Key Tracks "Mississippi Goddam," "Four Women," "I Wish Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free"
Influenced Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, Erykah Badu
"White people had Judy Garland — we had Nina," Richard Pryor once said. Nina Simone's honey-coated, slightly adenoidal cry was one of the most affecting voices of the civil rights movement — "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free" is still heartbreaking, "To Be Young, Gifted and Black" life-affirming. She could belt barroom blues, croon cabaret and explore jazz — sometimes all on a single record. "I heard her sing a song in French — I didn't even know what she was saying, and I started crying," says Mary J. Blige, who will play Simone in an upcoming feature film. "Then she goes from that to 'Mississippi Goddam,' singing it like a church record, but she's cursing out the system. Nina could sing anything, period."