Release Date: April 28th, 1965
Words by: Roland Ellis
April 28th, 2015
“Sinnerman” is an African-American traditional song that dates back to the turn of the 20th Century. In other words, like so many classic American tunes no one knows who originally penned this track, which is a great shame because those like the writer of “Sinnerman” are certainly worthy of historical note.The question is how did Simone strike the perfect chord when interpreting this song?
Nina Simone’s version of “Sinnerman” is one of those covers that signal the end of the conversation. Like The Animals’ “House of The Rising Sun” or Hendrix’s “All Along The Watchtower”, Simone’s interpretation of “Sinnerman” represents a pinnacle beyond which the trajectory of the tune can reach no higher.
Sure, other covers will arise—in this case see versions by Peter Tosh and one by The Seekers, for example—but Simone delivered the song to its full potential, and as such, her version will perennially be considered the watermark.
The question is how did Simone strike the perfect chord when interpreting this song?
In the case of the Animals’ cover of “House of the Rising Sun” the answer to such a question is elusive. I.e., Eric Burdon is from England and as far as his back-story tells us, he has no ostensible connection to a plot line that revolves around a New Orleans descent into depravity. How then did Burdon and his group of fellow Englishmen hit the nail so squarely on the head?
The answer is far less mysterious when it comes to Nina Simone and “Sinnerman”. Simone’s mother was a Methodist minister who often used the spiritual “Sinnerman” to help draw confessions out of her congregation. Simone was raised within that congregation so she experienced the song and its myriad affects from a very young age. That being the case, it seems only natural that she would go on to cover the tune with such power and authority.