Zero to 180 – Three Minute Magic

Discoveries of a Pop Music Archaeologist

Nina Simone (vs. Syd Nathan) at Bethlehem Records

Browsing Nina Simone‘s early single releases on Bethlehem RecordsGus Wildi‘s jazz label, whose control and eventual ownership would ultimately be given over to Syd Nathan of King Records — my eyes are immediately drawn to the instrumental B-side, “African Mailman,” a fairly radical and oblique song title for the conformist 1950s.

African Mailman

Nina Simone (1959)

Improvised composition in one take

Nina Simone — vocals, piano & arrangements
Jimmy Bond — double bass
Albert TootieHeath — drums
[Photography: .Chuck Stewart]
Recorded Dec. 1957 at NYC’s Beltone Studios


Billboard‘s November 9, 1959 review of this 45 release is very much of its time and best appreciated when read aloud in a Brooklyn gangster/”wise guy” kind of dialect:

*** DON’T SMOKE IN BED – BETHLEHEM 11055 -“Don’t Smoke in Bed” is from the chick’s LP. She gives the oldie an attractive torch reading over excellent combo support. Strong side bears watching. [Oriole, ASCAP]

*** AFRICAN MAILMAN – Tune was cleffed by the artist. It’s an inventive melody that is accorded a jazz piano treatment with good combo support. Afro-Cuban rhythm makes for a danceable side. [BMI]

Jeremy Allen, who compiled an annotated Nina Simone “Ten Of The Bestlist for The Guardian in 2016, singles out one specific Bethlehem-era recording and notes how its use in a European television advertisement single-handedly revitalized Simone’s career:

The deal Simone agreed with Bethlehem Records was shortsighted. She signed away the rights to all her early recordings in exchange for $3,000, which probably seemed like a lot of money at the time [$3,000 in 1959 approximates to $30,809 in 2023 dollars]. That lack of forethought would cost her a fortune, and it wouldn’t be the last time she demonstrated a lack of financial nous. After Simone realised her mistake and went to Colpix Records, Bethlehem put out a cobbled together second album – Nina Simone and Her Friends – but it wasn’t until 1987, when “My Baby Just Cares for Me” exploded in Europe, that it really hit her pocket. That said, the exposure – the song featured in a perfume commercial – brought Simone to a new audience and allowed her to work only when she needed to until her death in 2003.

My Baby Just Cares For Me

Nina Simone (1959)

Nina Simone: vocals, piano & arrangements
Jimmy Bond: double bass
Albert TootieHeath: drums
Recorded Dec. 1957 at Beltone Studios


The person who posted this 1987 Chanel ad on YouTube (below) asserts that this European-only advert gave Simone “one of the biggest come-backs ever” in show business:

Chanel Nr. 5

1987 TV ad

My Baby Just Cares For Me” by Nina Simone

Prior to the song’s rediscovery, however, a bootlegrepro” 45 of the original 1962 single appeared in the UK circa 1978-1980 due to “club demand,” recalls 45Cat contributor YankeeDisc, who notes that Chris Hill, the “Gold Mine” DJ, used to play this track, as well as Capital Radio’s Roger Scott. .Record collectors can take heart — this bootleg 45 is easy to spot due to the flaming typo:


UK Bootleg 45

My Baby Just Cares

Also issued in Jamaica in 1968 & 1973

Simone’s solitary 14-song recording session for Bethlehem at Beltone Studios (with engineer Irv Greenbaum) took place in December, 1957 at a time when the label was experiencing serious cash flow difficulties and unable to release new material. By the time Bethlehem had regained its footing thanks to a capital infusion from Syd Nathan, however, Nina Simone’s earliest studio recordings would be subject to the whims of the label’s new boss, who did not feel sufficiently respected by the unapologetically outspoken artist, as recounted by Mike Callahan and David Edwards in “The Bethlehem Story” (courtesy of Both Sides Now Publications):

Wildi and Nathan didn’t see eye-to-eye on much. Wildi selected eleven songs for Nina Simone’s album and got Chuck Stewart, Dinah Washington’s photographer, to shoot some photos in Central Park for the cover. The cover had her name, then in smaller letters, “Jazz as Played in an Exclusive Side Street Club.” On the back slick and label was the actual title of the record, Little Girl Blue. He got Joseph Muranyi, a writer he had used for other albums, to write liner notes for the album [you can read them here on the official Nina Simone website].

Simone’s one-year contract was coming up for renewal late in the year 1958, and according to Nina, Syd Nathan appeared on her door in New York one day with a list of songs he wanted her to record. She basically told him to take a hike, and that her agreement with Gus Wildi was that she could record what she wanted. Nathan felt that nobody could talk to him like that. When Wildi approached him about renewing Nina Simone’s contract, Nathan told him pointedly that they weren’t going to renew her, and they didn’t need her. Nathan stalled the release of the album from its scheduled September, 1958, release, to after her contract was up. When it was finally released in February, 1959, he arranged for minimal promotion for the album.

Little Girl Blue LP

Released February 1959

$405 paid for LP (31 bids) in 2021

Same LP repackaged in 1987 for Europe

My Baby Just Cares For Me

Promotion or not, a Philadelphia disc jockey named Sid Mark, who had met Nina and heard her play, bought a copy and loved it. He started playing the album on the radio, and was particularly taken by what was called “Porgy” on original album pressings (second pressings of both the album and original single were later corrected to “I Loves You, Porgy.”) His listeners also loved the song, and started requesting it – a lot. He thought that surely if the song were released as a single, it would be a hit, so he called the offices of Bethlehem/King in Cincinnati. He was told to forget it, that it was just a local thing, and they had no intention of releasing it. Nina Simone herself called to talk to Syd Nathan several times, trying to tell him that the song was really popular in Philly. Nathan either hung up on her or made sure he was “unavailable.”

Meanwhile, Gus Wildi was traveling all over the Northeast with a stack of the Little Girl Blue albums under his arm, trying to get airplay.

Finally, the song started catching on in New York City, and Nathan reluctantly released it as a single in June, 1959.

Cash Box

Jul. 11, 1959

By that time Nina had already signed with Colpix Records, and was preparing an album for them. Reviewed in Billboard‘s June 8, 1959 issue, “Porgy” was given a tepid review [“A slow and languid effort by Miss Simone, assisted by piano, bass and brushed drums. Fair thrushing.”] and two stars. But it entered Billboard‘s R&B charts the week of June 22, eventually reaching #2, and entered the Billboard Hot 100 pop charts in August, eventually reaching #18. It did even better on the pop charts of the other trades, making #15 in Cash Box and #11 in Record World. It was easily the biggest hit Bethlehem ever had.

Billboard Pop Chart

Oct. 5, 1959

Simone herself would recount this deeply discordant experience with Bethlehem Records in her 1991 autobiography, I Put A Spell On You (with Stephen Cleary):

That week in New Hope [north of Philadelphia] was certainly touched by something, because Jerry [Fields, Simone’s agent] called to say that a demo tape I had made at the [Bucks County Playhouse] Inn before Al [Shackman, guitarist] came down to play had been heard by some guys from a label called Bethlehem Records in New York, and they wanted to talk to me about recording an album. The next day [Syd] Nathan, the owner of Bethlehem, turned up at my house. He had a bunch of songs with him he expected me to play and a list of musicians he wanted me to use as my studio band. I knew Jerry hadn’t warned [Syd] about me, because he started gulping like a fish when I told him I wasn’t interested in playing any of his songs and that if I was going to make an album I’d choose the material myself and pick the musicians I wanted to support me.

What [Syd] Nathan didn’t know was I wasn’t interested in being famous, and I didn’t think being a singer was any big thing. All the time I was playing those little tours up and down the East Coast I made sure that I got back to Philadelphia every week for my lesson with Vladimir Sokoloff. I never missed one, and I never stopped preparing my pieces for the next week’s lesson. Clubs weren’t my serious ambition, so if the money wasn’t right and it wasn’t fun I wouldn’t play.

It was difficult for a man like [Syd] Nathan to understand that an unknown girl who made a living playing small clubs could turn down a record deal without thinking twice about it. He came back to the house later in the afternoon and said I could do whatever I wanted so long as I left with him the next day to go to the studio. I spoke to Jerry and he said the money they were offering was fine, so I agreed.

I went into the studio and recorded my songs exactly as I always played them, so when you listen to that Bethlehem album you’re hearing the songs played as they were at the Midtown Bar [Atlantic City]. The only difference is that you don’t get to hear the improvisations that I wove around those numbers in my live set. “I Loves You Porgy” was the song I sang for Ted [Axelrod at the Midtown]; “For All We Know” was my usual closing number; “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” I’d sung all my life; and “Plain Gold Ring” was a song I learned from the harpist Kitty White. I made up the arrangement of “Little Girl Blue” and “Good King Wenceslas” one night at the Midtown. I learned “He Needs Me” from Peggy Lee. “African Mailman” was made up on the spot in the studio and recorded in one take. “Central Park Blues” was the same; I called it that because we’d just been out into Central Park to shoot publicity photos for the album cover.

We recorded the whole session in fourteen hours and the last song we did was “My Baby Just Cares For Me,” which I included because [Syd] wanted an up-tempo number to finish. I was back home in Philadelphia two days after I left, and I spent the next three days playing Beethoven to get the recording session out of my system. My biggest regret was Al was still away with Burt Bacharach and couldn’t make it to the session.

At the end of the recording [Syd] gave me a piece of paper to sign, which I did without reading it. It was a standard recording contract. I had no manager, no lawyer and no accountant. What would I need them for? I was a classical pianist, not some pop star. It was a mistake that, in the end, would cost me over a million dollars.

After sitting on the December 1957 recordings for an entire year, Syd Nathan eventually issued the Little Girl Blue album in February 1959, as reported in Cash Box. Since the agreement with Bethlehem “was only for one album,” Simone then signed a long-term deal with Colpix at the behest of Joyce Selznick, East Coast talent scout for Columbia Pictures Records (and cousin to film producer, David O. Selznick), who had seen the artist at one of her early New York City performances.

Simone, no doubt relieved to put the Bethlehem experience behind her, would then be completely blindsided by Syd Nathan’s next move in the run-up to her first Colpix release:

My first album for Colpix was The Amazing Nina Simone, but before it even came out Bethlehem had released a rival, Nina Simone And Her Friends [combined with old material from Chris Connor and Carmen McRae], which contained the few remaining songs that we had decided not to use on Little Girl Blue. I had no idea Bethlehem had any intention to do such a thing until I saw it on display in a record store window in Greenwich Village, but there was nothing I could do about it.

Cash-In” LP





With Colpix’s release of the “Chilly Winds“/”Solitaire” single in May of 1959, Simone’s second record label, ironically, would be the first to issue a Nina Simone 45. But with the unexpected commercial success of “Porgy” following the artist’s departure from the label, Syd Nathan’s initial refusal to consider any Nina Simone single releases, however, soon gave way to a flood of Bethlehem 45s:

[Jun. 1959]

I Loves You, Porgy” b/w “Love Me Or Leave Me

[Sep. 1959]

Little Girl Blue” b/w “He Needs Me

[Nov. 1959]

Don’t Smoke In Bed” b/w “African Mailman

[Jan. 1960]

Mood Indigo” b/w “Central Park Blues

[Feb. 1960]

For All We Know” b/w “Good Bait

[May 1960]

You’ll Never Walk Alone” b/w “Plain Gold Ring

[Jul. 1960]

Central Park” b/w “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands

[Aug. 1962]

My Baby Just Cares For Me” b/w “He Needs Me

The initial “Porgy” single, it’s interesting to note, saw distribution in the US, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Canada, and India. Don Nicholl‘s five-star review for the October 3, 1959 edition of UK music magazine, Disc, was unqualified in its praise:

I am not surprised to learn that Nina Simone is enjoying terrific success with this distinctive vocal of “I Loves You Porgy” in America. The girl packs the Gershwin ballad with tremendous feeling, a feeling which is underlined effectively by the utter simplicity of the piano and brush rhythm backing. Nina ought to win a host of British admirers with this sincere, thoughtful approach.

“Love Me Or Leave Me” brings out the girl’s sense of jazz. Pace peps up, naturally here, but backing stays with piano and rhythm while Miss Simone travels so smoothly through the fine standard.



A Record Changed My Life:

Seymour Stein & “I Loves You, Porgy

(excerpt from Stein’s autobiography, Siren Song)

Over two summers, I was moved around the company [as a seventeen-year-old intern at King in 1959] to learn every aspect of the record-making business. Syd was particularly proud of his pressing facility, a luxury he often described as “milling your own biscuits.” One day, to my absolute horror, he ordered me into that back building, a stinking [waste]hole of heavy machinery and barrels of acid, where a Nina Simone version of “I Loves You, Porgy” happened to be on the production line. A technician put me in front of a machine where a turd of melted vinyl slid down. My job was to firmly press the plate, lift it back open, and repeat the action all day.

With my legendary butterfingers, I was terrified I’d weld a Nina Simone record onto my hand. I managed to press about ten copies and then ran out and begged Syd, “Please don’t send me back to New York, but I really don’t want to go to the plating department again.” He didn’t fire me or even lose his temper, but whenever I hear that record, I always laugh at its line, “Don’t let him handle me with his hot hands.”


While Billboard’s June 8, 1959 review of the “Porgy” 45 may have been dismissive, Billboard‘s review of the Little Girl Blue LP three months earlier had been quite favorable, indeed:


Mar. 16, 1959

A Billboard Pick of the Week

Nina Simone is a new talent who bears watching. She can sing a song – a swinger or a ballad – in a warm, affecting style that is all her own. Her fine piano has a touch of classical feeling thrown in with the jazz-pop style. She sells the title song and “Don’t Smoke in Bed” with sparkle and feeling. If exposed, the set could easily become a strong seller. A good new talent here.”


Down Beat was similarly enthusiastic in its assessment of Nina Simone as a rising talent in its May 12, 1960 issue:

A recent discovery who has aroused considerable comment in jazz circles. Miss Simone rose to prominence virtually overnight with her hit single record, Porgy. Accompanying herself at the piano, she displays a rich, distinctive singing style on blues or popular material. Miss Simone would possibly work to best advantage in smaller clubs.

1961 EP


These liner notes by Bill Carey, which can be found on the rear sleeve of the 1962 Parlophone EP The Intimate Nina Simone released in the UK, likewise reflect Simone’s growing reputation as a talent to watch:

Angular, attractive and saturated with the husky-voiced melancholy of her race, Nina Simone became nationally prominent in America with her interpretation of Gershwin’s vividly convincing “I Loves You, Porgy,” the highly sexed, slightly cruel ballad which was the climax of his career in 1935, and which brought Nina lasting fame in 1959.

The traditional ballad, “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands,” is given a sensible, sincere treatment. “For All We Know” is equally sincere, and these two items provide two of Nina’s moods in a balance of spiritual and emotional warmth which is relaxed and inspired at the same time.

Al Heath and Jimmy Bond accompany Nina in this trio of passionately lyrical ballads. The fourth item is the rhythmic “African Mailman,” a Simone composition which features her piano lead in a swinging piece of pleasantry. Al and Jimmy add the spice of jazz to a group of items which, while far from being jazz, are subjected to the impulse of the idiom.

Al Heath, drums, is the younger brother of famous bassist Percy and tenorist Jimmy. He has toured with Jay Jay Johnson and recorded with the Adderley Brothers and John Coltrane. Jimmy Bond, bass, has worked with Chet Baker, Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald and Buddy De Franco. Al is twenty-five, Jimmy is twenty-nine and both are from Nina’s home for many years — Philadelphia.

Nina Simone is as much in command of the territory of her art as Ella, Lena and Odetta are in theirs. In these days of pseuo-folk singers using forced, extravagant and strained techniques, it is refreshing to be able to recommend the finest exponent of blues-influenced ballads from the calmer waters of modern melancholy.

1962 EP



In May 1967, James Brown, curiously, would release his version of “I Loves You Porgy” on Bethlehem — not King.

Recorded in 1964 in NYC

Sammy Lowe, arranger & conductor

(Also released 1968 on Smash)


Bethlehem, in the post-Syd Nathan era (circa Aug/Sep. 1970) would make the decision to reissue Nina Simone’s “Porgy” but with a different choice of song for the flip side, one that Simone would ultimately dismiss as “one of the slightest I’d ever recorded”: .“My Baby Just Cares For Me.”

1970 B-side

45 label misidentifies LP title as Nina Simone



My Baby Just Cares For Me

Record Of The Week

BBC Radio London

Music & Media – 27 May 1985



In 1989, Simone filed suit against Charly Records, alleging “systematic intent” to defraud the artist via underpayment of royalties in connection with the 1987 reissue of “My Baby Just Cares For Me” (which charted well in the UK, West Germany, and France in 1987-88), as well as the trade in California of unlawfully-manufactured reproductions of Simone’s repertoire.


October 28, 1989

Name ofsinger” – Nina Simone


“When I signed that slip of paper at the end of the Bethlehem session, I gave up all of my rights as a performer and artist, so they could sell recordings of mine that I had never thought of releasing. I would get wise to contracts over the years, but what hurt most was that Bethlehem would not even have had a hit record if I hadn’t kept calling them, trying to get them to do the job they said they were so good at. It was thanks to me that they were in a position to make money out of my name.”


News tip from Sherry Glover Thompson
(see attached comments below)

A competition, in collaboration with the Art of the Piano Festival, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, for Black American pianists.


Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s

Nina Simone Piano Competition Concerto Finals

October 6, 2023

Buy Tickets Now



LINK to Jazz

LINK to Musical Fights

LINK to Advertising +/- Marketing in Popular Music



Tip Jar

Look for the Donate button on the home page.

Your financial contribution can help insure the long-term viability of Zero to 180 and its mission to celebrate the artistic achievements of noteworthy figures in popular music who have not yet received their full and proper recognition.


Categories in this Post

2 Responses

  1. Has this info been shared with Ms. Someone’s daughter? UC’s Conservatory of Music has established a series in her name and her daughter is working with them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All Categories