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The Morning Show - With Jill Riley

Coffee Break: musician activists

Nina Simone performing onstage at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1968.
Nina Simone performing onstage at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1968.David Redfern/Redferns/Getty Images

by Jill Riley

February 21, 2024

Singer, songwriter, pianist, music arranger and civil rights activist Nina Simone was born in Tryon, North Carolina, on this day in 1933. Simone was a fierce advocate for civil rights from an early age; at age 12, during her very first piano recital, Simone’s parents were moved from the front row to the back row of the venue to make room for white people, but Simone refused to play until her parents were returned to the front row. In 1968, Simone famously told a New York public television station, “I’ll tell you what freedom is to me: no fear. I mean really, no fear!”

Simone is one of many musicians who have used their artistic platform as a space to be an activist for positive change — be it fighting racism, working for human rights, advocating for the environment, supporting workers, or rallying for peace. In honor of Nina Simone, let’s hear those artists’ music today. 

So for today’s 9:30 Coffee Break, what songs by musician activists do you want to hear?

Respond with your song ideas in the comments below.

Have an idea for a Coffee Break topic? Submit your idea for a future theme and browse past Coffee Breaks in our archive.

Songs Played
Nina Simone – To Love Somebody
Stevie Wonder – Living For The City
Jon Batiste – We Are
Billy Bragg – There Is Power in a Union
Marvin Gaye – Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)
James Brown – Say It Loud I'm Black And I'm Proud