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Nina Simone Does NOT Shake Hands With Children

Nina Simone in 1965

In 1980 my father took us with him to a client meeting with someone named Nina Simone. Hers wasn’t a name we’d heard before that day. It wasn’t unusual for him to have brief meetings with clients on a weekend, nor was it unpleasant. We were well-behaved children, in public anyhow, and clients were typically dazzled by manners and would buy us things like candies or toys. The criminal clients would send us to the corner market to buy them a pack of cigarettes and tell us to spend the change on whatever we wanted. The cigarettes would cost a dollar, and they would give us five. The entertainment or business clients would have something on hand. Typically a piece of priceless memorabilia that we would promptly lose or destroy. We were little. No one seemed to know what to do with us.

When we arrived at the client meeting in 1980, I was just ten years old. It was another opulent office tower in Hollywood looking down on Sunset Boulevard and the Los Angeles basin. Though meant to inspire awe, my brother and I were long since jaded. I remember the views were beautiful, and the sky was blue, but we didn’t feel like being inside.

I wasn’t particularly big, I wasn’t particularly small, but the woman who greeted us was the largest woman I’d met in a lifetime. She wore a caftan that was made of all the colors of the sun, and she stood taller than any lady I’d ever seen. In retrospect, she wasn’t that tall, but her personality was. My father introduced my brother and me to “Ms. Simone”, and I extended my right hand for a shake.

Ms. Simone reached down in the swiftest of moves, held me around my waist, and said, “I do not shake hands with children, and you can call me Miss Nina, but they may not.” As she released me, she waved her whole arm in a sweeping gesture at the other businessmen, artists, and musicians that were waiting on her, and most certainly would not be addressing her by her first name. This honor was reserved for children. Finally, someone in business who knew what a child was.

I was smitten and terrified and pulled to her orbit like metal shavings to the world’s most powerful magnet. I’d never seen a person, let alone a woman, with that much power. There was power in her silence, power in her words, and power in her personhood. She transferred that power to us with a loving hug, she let us into her world with more intimacy than she allowed adults “Miss Nina” not “Ms. Simone”. We didn’t have to be good little robots, we got to be kids that glorious women hugged.

There was a grand piano in the room, and shortly thereafter would be singing and playing, but I never did enjoy it for what it was. I was still trying to figure out the hug and everything it meant. Oh, and there were no gifts for us to lose. We had the hug forever.

I have it today.

9 thoughts on “Nina Simone Does NOT Shake Hands With Children”

  1. what a nice little story, but i´m not sure, if i got it right (due to my not always 100% working in-head-translation-service..;)), so: how was that meant by nina simone? was it like: “you´re a kid, and i like kids so much, that i want them to stay kids and i don´t want to treat them like grown-ups” or was it like “i don´t have a connection to kids, so please don´t touch me!”? i don´t get it. becaus, if the first thing was the case, there woulndn´t have been any reason to worry, would there?

    i know, silly questions, but i like the story so much, i want to fully understand it..:)

  2. Like Nilz, I don’t get the point of your story. Are you saying that was a bad thing or good thing? Sounds like your expectations of treatment and reward were high for a little kid…maybe she picked up on that.

  3. When my dad was in the new car business GM sent us to a lot of different things. Concerts, cruises, things like that. There were always perks above and beyond the actual event like having dinner with Travis Tritt and that kind of thing. I loved those times but at most we’d get an autographed photo or something and we were totally stoked when that happened. We (my brother and I) just felt so lucky to be able to enjoy those perks. Then we would go home and tell our friends who we’d met and they would be angry with us. We never understood that. We just wanted to share our adventure but they were jealous and it was always such a downer. We quit sharing our stories with others and just spoke about them amongst the two of us.

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