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“Counterfeit Madison Meets Nina Simone: A Celebration of Blackness” at the Den

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A lot of people told Sharon Udoh (aka Counterfeit Madison) she sounded like Nina Simone, but what that might mean never really registered. "I have a very religious background," she explains. "I never listened to secular music until late in life, so I had no idea who Nina Simone was." When she finally figured out who she was, Udoh was 29 years old, had been playing the piano for two decades, and consciously avoided songs written and popularized by Simone, the classically trained, juke-joint-tested author of "To Be Young, Gifted, and Black," and "Mississippi Goddam". She wanted people to hear her voice, not someone else's. Then something happened.

"What prompted this show was a Nina Simone biopic that caused a lot of controversy," Udoh says. "Because they cast a fine actress named Zoe Saldana but put blackface on her and gave her a prosthetic nose. I was upset. As a dark-black woman, I'd hope if I were to die and somebody told my story, they would cast a dark-black woman to tell the story. Nina Simone was a person of color who sang about the plight of people of color. So I decided, 'fuck it, I'm mad enough,' I was going to do a Nina Simone."

Sharon Udoh (aka Counterfeit Madison)
  • Sharon Udoh (aka Counterfeit Madison)

Udoh's first show was in Chicago, backed by a hot quintet. She's coming to Memphis solo and sees the change as an opportunity to explore Simone's frequently improvisational performance style.

"I had to pick where I was going to shine through and where she was going to shine through," Udoh says of her work adapting Simone's famously difficult material. "In doing that, I found myself even more."

Friday, July 28th, Evergreen Presbyterian Church presents "Counterfeit Madison Meets Nina Simone: A Celebration of Blackness" at The Den on Marshall in partnership with the Memphis Medical District Collaborative. Saxophonist Marque Boyd opens. A portion of the proceeds go the Memphis' official Black Lives Matter chapter.

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