This year marks the twentieth anniversary of Jazz Appreciation Month. Taking place every year in the month of April, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History recognizes and celebrates the history of jazz. Offering guidance on how jazz can be celebrated in schools and communities throughout the United States.
Each year, the Smithsonian uses a thematic approach that highlights certain periods of jazz and a featured artist. This year, the museum is highlighting “Women’s Impact and Contributions in Jazz” during the month-long focus. The featured artist selected is the legendary vocalist, pianist, and composer Nina Simone. The prominent civil rights activist is portrayed in the annual Jazz Appreciation Month poster. Simone is depicted by Duke Ellington School of the Arts sophomore visual arts student Naa Anyele Sowah-de Jesus.
Recognizing the contributions of women in jazz, from the genre’s earliest development to present successes and challenges, has been part of a year-long emphasis on the role of women in jazz. Which culminates in honoring the historical legacy of Nina Simone.
Featured in the annual celebration is the pianist, singer, songwriter, storyteller, and civil rights activist Nina Simone. Born February 21, 1933, in Tryon, North Carolina, Simone became enamored with music at the early age of three when she learned to play the piano by ear. She went on to study classical repertoire and aspired to continue her education as a concert pianist at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, but that future did not come to pass. An audition in 1954 at the Midtown Bar & Grill in Atlantic City, New Jersey, was noted by historians as a defining moment in her career that introduced her talents as a pianist and singer to an unsuspecting and enthusiastic audience. Some of her many recordings include her debut album, Little Girl Blue, on Bethlehem Records; the 1962 live recording Nina at the Village Gate; and 1964’s Nina Simone in Concert, which famously addressed racial inequality. Simone received the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2000 and was inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018. Her 1964 performance of “Mississippi Goddam” was selected as culturally and historically significant by the Library of Congress in 2018 and included for preservation on the National Recording Registry. To learn more about Nina Simone, visit ninasimone.com.
Celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month throughout April by listening to jazz, viewing jazz documentaries, reading books on jazz, and where possible, attending socially distanced jazz concerts.