I had the pleasure of introducing the great band Dexter Story put together for Young, Gifted & Nina, the superb show at Grand Performances on Friday night. The singers: Georgia Anne Muldrow, Jimetta Rose, Sonja Marie, and Patrice Quinn channeled Nina’s voice, style, sultriness, and spirit magnificently; Waberi Jordan looked like an African queen transplanted into 1960’s Carnaby Street in her black and white minidress, and Joi Gilliam wore a translucent dress that turned some heads. Dwight Trible was incredibly moving, putting his heart and soul into his singing as he always does. Kudos to Michael Alexander, Leigh Ann Hahn and all the Grand Performances crew, as well as, Music Director Dexter Story and Jonathan Rudnick, who helped bring it all together. Click here to read my intro notes on the great Nina Simone.
At the end of my intro, I told the crowd that even though I met and knew Nina Simone, I never knew what the song “Sealine Woman” was about. I’ve seen it spelled a million times, mostly wrong: ceeline woman, sealion woman (that sounds scary), see-line woman, see lyin’ woman, she lyin’ woman; I’ve also been told that it was a dress, a civil war ditty, etc. I asked the audience for help, and got some feedback from a fashionably-dressed and very knowledgeable woman.
Nina’s “Sealine Woman” is a 19th century seaport song about sailors and prostitutes. The sailors would come into port (Charleston or New Orleans perhaps). Women of the pleasure quarters would be waiting, lined up dockside. Their dress c0lors signified the specific delights they offered. That is what the song is really about. Nina sang it many different ways, often changing the lyrics. Here are most of them. It’s a slippery thing, this song; the lyrics and song title always change according to who you ask.
“Sealine Woman” – Nina Simone, 1964
Sealine woman, she drink coffee she drink tea and then go home
Sealine woman, sealine woman, dressed in green
wears silk stockings with golden seams
Sealine woman, dressed in brown
watch out fellas, she’s gonna get down
Sealine woman, sealine woman, dressed in red
make a man lose his head (or wears a rag upon her head)
Sealine woman, sealine woman
black dress on, for a thousand dollars
she wail and she moan
(variant) sealine woman, dressed in black
sleep all day, on her back
Sealine woman, wiggle wiggle
turn like a cat, wink at a man
and he wink back
Now child, sealine woman
empty his pockets and wreck his days
make him love her, and she’ll fly away
sealine woman, dressed in white
stay up all day, ball all night
Sealine woman, dressed in yellow
watch out girl, gonna steal your fellow
Here is a version she did in Berlin in 1988, followed by images of slavery days back when this song may have originated.
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