I recently stumbled upon Nina Simone’s 1976 performance of ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free’, and I haven’t been that stunned by a performance in ages.
I fell down a rabbit hole of female vocalists who, throughout the years, have proven that there is nothing stronger or more captivating than a woman’s voice. From Nina to Joni to Fiona to Lauryn to Amy, here are five of the most incredible live performances of some of the most captivating songs ever written.
Nina Simone – ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free’, Montreux 1976
On the 3rd of July, 1976, Nina Simone sat down at the piano at Montreux Casino for the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and played this song to a packed room of gamblers who collectively won the jackpot just by being there. The whole performance clocked in at 111 minutes, with only 47 minutes taken up by continuous music. By most accounts, it was as shambolic as it was brilliant, but who wouldn’t endure a little awkward stage banter for moments of pure glory like this?
Fiona Apple – ‘Never is a Promise’, 1996
Fiona Apple was 19-years-old when she recorded and performed ‘Never is a Promise’ from her debut album, Tidal. Just let that sink in for a second. Was there ever a force more defiant? Honestly, Fiona’s talent scares me. Pretty sure the term ‘spitting fire’ started gaining popularity after this performance.
Joni Mitchell – ‘Little Green’, 1967
In 1967, folk music legend Joni Mitchell was just beginning to court some serious buzz around her. At 24-years-old, she played a set that included her track ‘Little Green’ at Cafe Au Go-Go, in New York. She penned the song in ’67 as a dedication to her daughter, Kelly, whom she had given up for adoption only two years before. The song ended up appearing on Mitchell’s iconic 1971 record, Blue.
Lauryn Hill – ‘Everything Is Everything’, 1999
1998’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is one of the most important records of the last century. In 1999, Ms. Hill took to the stage at the Soul Train awards and completely annihilated her performance of the album’s lead single, ‘Everything Is Everything’. Please note how quickly the entire audience took to their feet after she appeared on stage—she literally got one ‘uh’ out and the whole place knew what time it was.
Amy Winehouse – ‘Back to Black’, 2006
It’s hard to watch any footage of Amy Winehouse without getting sad, but her gift was so out of this world that it would be a travesty not to celebrate it on its own merit. In 2006, Winehouse performed ‘Back to Black’ at Irish music festival Other Voices, and if this doesn’t turn your bones to liquid you are made of stone. Never be another like her.