While Beyoncé was making history at Coachella in Indio, California, Nina Simone was being honored for the history she had spent her life making across the country in Cleveland, Ohio.
As reported, the acclaimed singer, pianist, composer and activist was officially inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Saturday (April 14) during an induction ceremony that featured an array of special guests. Simone has been eligible to join the Rock Hall since 1986 and was first nominated this year.
Mary J. Blige was the Master of Ceremonies, giving a heartfelt speech during which she explains her deep connection to, and appreciation of, the late icon. As fans can recall, a passionate Blige previously was set to portray Simone in a biopic, although the role ended up going to Zoe Saldana.
"It's an honor to have been invited here tonight to induct Nina Simone into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," she began. "Please bear with me, this is a very long speech, but I'm here for the Queen tonight. I'm going to take my time."
"Nina Simone could sing anything," Blige continued. "She was classically trained, and they called her the High Priestess of Soul. She sang jazz, blues, spirituals, folk songs, show tunes, children's songs, songs by Bob Dylan, the Bee Gees and George Harrison. But everything she sang, she made her own."
Blige then poignantly recalled the life and legacy of Simone, who passed in 2003 at the age of 70, sharing a couple of anecdotes of Simone experiencing racial discrimination—including as a young piano playing prodigy at the age of 10 and later again when she was rejected from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia—and the impact racial oppression had on her and her career alike. Blige also goes on to reinforce how Simone's iconic catalog, one that was referred to as the "soundtrack for the civil rights movement" by former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, still resonates today.
"I know, I know, I know that Nina and I have a lot in common," Blige said, concluding her heartfelt speech. "Through our pain and our turmoil, we sing and we heal and we help people heal and we help people get through it. Just like Nina, I can do a record with whoever I want – I can do a record with Elton John or with Bono or with Jay-Z or with Method Man and no one will ask, 'Why is she doing that?' That's because I know exactly what I want and who I am and why I'm doing what I'm doing. And that's what Nina did, and that is why she is so important and she means so much to me."
In addition to Blige having the honor of inducting Simone into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Lauryn Hill and Andra Day performed an incredible tribute to the singer with an emotive medley of her hits.
Take a look at the transcript of Mary J. Blige's speech in full here, via Rolling Stone, and in the video, below, as well as see highlights from Lauryn Hill and Andra Day's respective performances.