Dance company salutes the sensational Simone
Nina Simone wrote songs that buttressed and illuminated the civil rights movement.
“Her life is pretty much a storybook kind of a thing,” said Larry Brewer, artistic director of the South Shore Dance Alliance.
The Griffith-based troupe will pay homage to the late singer and pianist at “A Tribute to Nina Simone: Her Music, Her Voice and Her Message.”
According to Brewer, choreography will mesh with “her beautiful music” at performances in Gary that are set for Friday, May 3, at the West Side Leadership Academy auditorium, and Saturday, May 4, at Indiana University’s Theatre Northwest on Grant Street. Both shows start at 7 p.m.
Contributing to the entertainment will be two notable Gary musicians: Billy Foster, a jazz pianist, and trumpeter Art Hoyle.
“They’re local icons,” said Brewer, who guides the South Shore Dance Alliance as it offers various classes in dance, ranging from ballet to tap and modern styles.
The Billy Foster Trio -- which will perform at the Simone shows -- is one of the most venerable jazz combos in the Chicago area.
Hoyle, 83, has made his mark by blowing the horn for a bevy of famous voices. He was a featured soloist for Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald.
Hoyle also backed up Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee.
Foster and Hoyle will add their distinctive sounds to performances that remember Simone, who recorded “Why? (The King of Love is Dead)” in response to the 1968 assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“She was classically trained,” said Brewer, referring to her piano studies at the famous Juilliard School in New York City.
Adept at folk, blues and jazz, Simone became a musical force in support of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, writing material that dealt with the killing of activist Medgar Evers and the deaths of four black girls who died in an Alabama church bombing.
Hoyle said he saw Simone perform at a Chicago nightspot.
“She commanded silence when she was performing,” said Hoyle, noting that Simone was irritated by extraneous noise from the audience.
“She was an outstanding singer; she was an outstanding pianist, as well,” said Hoyle, who will probably also play the flugelhorn at the upcoming Simone-tribute shows.
Dancers ranging in age from about 11 to 18 will bring youthful energy to the performances, which are scheduled to include biographical narration about Simone’s life, backed up by the horn playing of Hoyle.
Also planned is choreography done to one of Foster’s songs.
But the focus will be on Simone, who notched a Top 10 hit in Great Britain with “My Baby Just Cares for Me.” The song made waves in the United Kingdom in the 1980s when it was used in a perfume commercial on television.
Simone died in France in 2003.
Brewer said the two Gary shows also will include a tribute to Michal Davis, a former dance instructor at Gary’s Emerson School for Visual and Performing Arts, which is now known as the Wirt/Emerson Visual and Performing Arts High Ability Academy. According to Brewer, the salute will recognize Davis’ contribution to dance in Gary.