Nina Simone, dubbed the “High Priestess of Soul” was brilliant and complicated. A native of Tryon, she went on to international stardom and notoriety as a mercurial singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger and civil rights activist. Asheville’s own diva, Kat Williams, salutes this musical giant on Friday, June 10 at White Horse Black Mountain. She will be accompanied by the Richard Shulman Trio with a special tribute show, “I Put a Spell on You: The Life and Times of Nina Simone."
Simone’s vast catalog includes classical, jazz, blues, folk R&B, gospel and pop, so it’s a rare performer that can do the music justice. Williams, a vocalist, is equal to the challenge, possessing a command of multiple styles and an animated stage presence that has earned a large fan base in the Asheville area and beyond. Although she’s best known for her soulful, bluesy textures, the versatile Williams is at home with jazz, blues, Motown, R&B, rock, pop, Broadway show tunes and gospel.
Williams has a remarkable vocal range, sometimes employing a smoky alto reminiscent of Dinah Washington or Mavis Staples, at other times singing with an agility and playfulness that recalls Ella Fitzgerald. She has become one of the most in demand singers in the region since moving to Asheville in 1997.
Simone, then known by her given name (Eunice Waymon), was already an accomplished classical pianist in her teens, attended Julliard, and planned to pursue a concert career until a rejection from the prestigious Curtis Music Institute necessitated making a living in popular music. Waymon became Nina Simone as a way to disguise from her religious family that she was playing the “devil’s music,” and also because she had to learn to sing to her own accompaniment in a nightclub gig.
Doing justice to the eclecticism of Simone’s playing requires a special kind of pianist, a description that suits Shulman. Area music fans are aware that he’s fluent in many styles of music. He'll be assisted on this occasion by bassist Shannon Hoover and Rick Dilling on drums.
Nina Simon interpreted
Who: Kat Williams
When: 7:30 p.m. June 10
Where: White Horse Black Mountain
Cost: $18 advance, $20 door