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The Four Women of Nina Simone

A reflection about the song by Nina Simone

Wild is the Wind album cover.


The decade of 1960 is one of the most dense, complex and difficult to address, not only in terms of American history, but also when it comes to world history, marked by many positive and not so positive events. In regards to the fight against racism, even though slavery had been abolished for a long time, the 60’s was period of increased turbulence, aggravated by some of the most impactful events related to this topic – Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington (1963), Civil Rights Act (1964), Voting Rights Act (1965) by President Lyndon Johnson and the assassinations of Malcolm X in Mannhattan (1965) and Martin Luther King’s in Memphis (1968). This struggle against inequality was by then endured on many different fronts. As a consequence, Blues and Jazz became increasingly more popular as a way of black emancipation. One of the most well known artists at the time was Nina Simone, a singer and pianist born in North Carolina in 1933, who would release a masterpiece album called “Wild is the Wind” 33 years later, serving as a harsh and explicit condemnation against racism, easily identifiable in the lyrics of the 2nd song (Four Women) from the album.


The song that serves as the subject for this article is characterized by a simplistic melody, and sang in a non-pretentious way so that all of the audience’s attention is directed to the lyrics without any other distraction. Throughout the song, Nina Simone presents us four fictional feminine characters – Aunt Sarah, Saffronia, Sweet Thing and Peaches, who describe themselves, their physical appearance and how they are seen and treated by society, serving as stereotypes described on the first person.

Aunt Sarah is the stereotype for a slave housemaid, frequently wounded by the whip and enduring a life full of sorrow “My back is strong / Strong enough to take the pain / Inflicted again and again” 

As for the second character, Saffronia, she poses a possible two-way interpretation. The first one, by nicknaming people of certain ethnic groups or races by the color of their skin, and the second one, related with all the prejudice suffered by the mixed race children, in this case, generated by the relationship between an Asian slave and the white owner.

Regarding the third fictional character evoked by Nina, Sweet Thing is undoubtedly the code name of a prostitute, acting as an alert for the listener to be aware of all the grievance, uncertainty and abuse that many women endured at the time, brutally expressed in “Whose little girl am I? / Anybody who has money to buy”.

Last but not least, Peaches is the angriest of all characters. “I’m awfully bitter these days / Because my parents were slaves” and can be seen not only as a symbol of young children born in a slavery context without (m)any realistic possibilities to escape their condition, but also their objectification and sexualization since a young age.


To this day, Nina Simone still serves as one of the greatest examples of tenacity in the fight against gender inequality and racism, by having been brave enough to stand for her convictions, both musically and personally. Meanwhile, many artists have shown homage to her works, one of the most famous among these being the sample of “Four Women” by Jay-Z, in his well known “The Story of O.J.”

Although Nina left us in 2003, her legend is immortal and will continue to inspire the generations to come.

by YKW // 3 February 2022

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