Rebirth of the Cool: Sinnerman


Nina Simone and the song “Sinnerman” go hand-in-hand. If you think of “Sinnerman”, you probably think of Nina’s version, and if you think of Nina, you probably thing of “Sinnerman”. Simone’s version is so authoritative and brilliant that you might not realize that she didn’t write the song. “Sinnerman” (or “Sinner Man”) began life as a traditional spiritual and many other people had a turn at it before Simone made it her own in 1965. For instance, king of exotica Les Baxter did it up with Will Holt on vocals in 1956.



Kind of a shock after Simone’s version. It’s kind of… well… white. (Though not the whitest of the white. For that, check out versions by the Weavers and Tommy Sands.)

Peter Tosh had a long relationship with the song, beginning in 1966 (some sources say 1964 or 1965) when he recorded it with the Wailers. In the ’70s, he changed the name to “Downpressor Man”.



One of the most recent versions was recorded by the Black Diamond Heavies for their 2008 album A Touch of Someone Else’s Class. It clearly draws from Simone’s version, shaping the song out with John Wesley Myers’ distinctive Fender Rhodes sound and ravaged vocals.


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