Nina Simone discussed black rights and the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. in July 1968, a few months after his assassination, in an interview for Italian radio. PBS recently rediscovered the chat and animated it as part of its Blank on Blank series.
The civil rights leader came up when interviewer Lillian Terry asked about the song “Why? (The King of Love Is Dead),” which her bassist Gene Taylor had written the day after the shooting. “In a narrative way, it is a folk song,” she said. “Why was he killed? It was bigotry that sealed his fate.” She then paraphrased the lyrics: “‘You can shed your tears, but they won’t change a thing. Will my country ever learn?’ Must it kill at every turn? We have to know what the consequences of these acts will bring. Then it says, ‘Folks, you’d better stop and think. Because we’re all heading for the brink,’ which is the truth. ‘What will happen now, that the king of love is dead?’ So the song is extremely powerful there. There’s no conclusion, it just leaves you up in the air.”
The singer then shifted the discussion to what it meant to her to be African-American in that time. “It’s a good time for black people to be alive,” she said. “It’s a lot of hell. A lot of violence, but I feel more alive now than I ever have in my life. I have a chance to live, as I’ve dreamed.”
When Terry asked about Simone’s daughter, Lisa, and how the singer expected her to make sense of the “revolutionary years,” Simone said she didn’t know what the girl would think. “Whatever it is, she’s going to have pride in her own blackness,” she said. “She’s going to have a chance to be more than just somebody who’s on the outside looking in. Like it’s been for most of us, and my parents before me, but she may see more bloodshed than I’ve ever even dreamed of. I have no way of knowing.”
Elsewhere in the chat, the singer discussed how she occasionally picked stage outfits that would shock audiences, how talented she thought her daughter was and how she once enjoyed being pinched at an Italian airport. PBS has also posted eight minutes’ worth of outtakes from the interview.