Nina Simone’s gifts as an interpreter rely heavily on her care for the learning of her audience, and we can hear that care in how she attends to repetition and variation.
Note here how the first iteration of the verse melody (0:23-0:40) is the simplest. You can hear her teaching us how to listen, and like all great teachers she starts with something simple—something very much like an iconic melody.
The second iteration (0:41-0:59) is nearly the same, with only one heartbreaking twist on the phrase “your own kin did.” Even that one twist tells us some things about the simple melody, including the harmonic structure that is its context.
These first two, simpler melodies have prepared us for the breaking apart of that melody that we hear in the third iteration (1:43-2:01). This breaking away from the original melody helps create the sense of deepening emotions, the sense that the song is driving at some deeper truth. And the fourth time through the melody (2:01-2:22) is the freest and emotionally crushing of all. Again, part of why it hits so hard is because we hear it as a bending and twisting of the earlier, simpler melody. Were we not able to hear the earlier melody in these later iterations, the sense of heartbreak and loss would vanish.
Thank you for reading.