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Poetry, Jazz, and Nina Simone: This Virtual Presentation of 'Philly Jawns' Will Have it All

Misty Sol

Closing out what’s been a jam-packed Jazz Appreciation Month is International Jazz Day on April 30th. But not lost on us here at WRTI is that April 30th also marks the last day of National Poetry Month. How best to honor both? How about with live readings from a book of poetry conceived and executed by local poets, where each piece is inspired by music immortalized by the High Priestess of Soul, Miss Nina Simone?Philly Jawns: For Women Revisited, a new poetry anthology in tribute to Nina Simone, is the latest project from co-editors and poets Debra Powell-Wright and Pat McLean-Smith. Lauded as “…both playlist and prayer for Ms. Simone, our mold-breaker and future fashioner” by former Philadelphia Poet Laureate Yolanda Wisher, Philly Jawns will be the subject of a multimedia virtual celebrationof both the High Priestess and Philadelphia’s robust local poetry scene on Friday night, April 30th—International Jazz Day— beginning at 6 PM.


Expect a dynamic recitation of Philly Jawns’ selections by pillars of the local performance poetry community like Temple University’s Dr. Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, WRTI alumna Rahnda Rize, and Philadelphia Youth Poet Laureate Cydney Brown, as well as musical palate cleansers—Nina-inspired, of course—from flutist DeeMaria and the percussion collective Sistahs Laying Down Hands.
“These poems are apropos for the moment,” said Powell-Wright, who founded the For Women Collective, a multi-genre performance ensemble named for Simone’s composition “Four Women,” in 2013. “I was thinking about [Simone] with all the things going on related to social unrest, related to Breonna Taylor, related to George Floyd. She wrote ‘Mississippi Goddam’ and said, ‘I mean every word of it.’ So, I got the idea to gather Philadelphia Black and Brown women poets to articulate whatever was on their heart.”
For Powell-Wright, who considers Simone and Sonia Sanchez, Philadelphia’s first poet laureate, her most influential artistic spirit guides, the value of Simone’s catalogue as a vehicle through which to express these feelings was self-evident.
“It was just about curating something we felt people would want to respond to,” she said. “And Nina Simone represents the person [whose work] captures the entirety of this moment. She represents that tone for us.”
Hosted by WRTI’s J. Michael Harrison, this free event is co-sponsored by the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts and Moonstone Arts Center. To learn more about Philly Jawns, visit the project’s webpage here.And to attend the free virtual performance, register here!


Matt Silver is a journalist, commentator, and storyteller who’s been enamored with the concept of performance since his grandparents told him as a toddler that singing "Sunrise, Sunset" in rooms full of strangers was the cool thing to do.