On the morning of September 15, 1963, a bomb planted by members of the Ku Klux Klan went off underneath the stairs of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four young black girls. Like many, Nina Simone was galvanized by the tragedy. After making her name with memorable takes on love songs and showtunes, she felt a new responsibility to help the black community with her art. The next year, rage fueled “Mississippi Goddam,” her first musical reaction to such injustices; “Four Women,” the lone song she wrote on Wild Is the Wind, is more subdued but just as cutting. She details the stereotypical roles available for black women in civil rights-era America—the old auntie, the biracial outcast, the prostitute, the revolutionary—embedding histories of slavery, colorism, and oppression into music sparse enough to soundtrack a supper club soiree. Without those four girls in Birmingham, “Four Women” may have never come to be. The song would help set her creative course as she became increasingly involved in the movements around her.
The rest of Wild Is the Wind zeroes in on a more romantic brand of heartbreak. In 1966, Simone was in the middle of her tumultuous relationship with husband and manager Andrew Stroud, who often tried to steer her away from cultural commentary in favor of less heavy—and, potentially, more commercial—material. But even when she’s playing the more traditional balladeer on “Lilac Wine” or the album’s title track, Simone’s tremulous voice conjures world-churning drama out of every curling phrase. In turn, each song adds a haunting humanity to her sketches of black womanhood. –Ryan Dombal / Pitchfork.com