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Now in his fifties, he was about ten when he learned his first scales from Simone, cupping his fingers over hers so he could gauge the weight of the ebony sharps.
Her hair was cornrowed into a bun, her cheeks brushed red; double drop earrings grazed her neckline.So when Miriam Makeba called in August 1974 and invited them to Liberia, Simone agreed.Makeba was due to meet Stephen Tolbert, the president74, the Kinshasa music festival that would accompany the Rumble in the Jungle boxing fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman that fall; Makeba was on the lineup, along with James Brown, B. King, and Bill Withers.s constitution has long barred whites from becoming citizens); home, where black musicians and activists like Stokely Carmichael, Makeba, and Masekela had found freedom.Two of the big six were dead, as were her friends Langston Hughes and Malcom X; Huey Newton and Bobby Seale were in jail.The rhythm of the civil-rights movement had ebbed, and Simone wondered if her cris de coeur for a more just racial order had fallen short.When the housekeeper came to work in the morning, she opened the door and she heard piano music.
When she went further into the house she found Nina sitting at the piano in the nude, tickling the keys.
She was given a cook, a gardener, a driver; Lisa was enrolled in the American school.
She spent much of her time at Congo Beach, where she loved the sea and the cotton trees, the way the soft evening light spread above the bay like butter, the fingers of the palm fronds that reached up to the gods.
On a September night in 1974, the wet season was closing down and an encore of rain washed the streets of Monrovia, Liberia; a torrent of sky and trash—discarded slippers, supine roaches, maybe a lost crab.
The rain stopped as abruptly as it started, as if a conductor had pressed his fingers together and cut the thundering chords, and then a film of humidity stretched over the city, steaming the downtown party strip that ran from Carey Street to Broad and Gurley.
As the spotlight swung from the old guard of conservative status-quoists to a new wave of progressive politicians, Liberia drew students, activists, political leaders, and musicians from Africa and black America—among them James Brown, Stokely Carmichael, Miriam Makeba, Nelson Mandela, Hugh Masekela, and the Rev. Six years had passed since Martin Luther King Jr.s assassination; nine since Simone had belted out protest songs during the Selma to Montgomery voting-rights march.