With “Pirate Jenny” from Schiffbauerdamm to Carnegie Hall: Nina Simone’s Making of a Protest Song in 1964

Eva Tanita Kraaz


This article examines the political implications of the song “Seeräuber-Jenny” from Die Dreigroschenoper by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill (1928), the cultural transfer through its translation by Marc Blitzstein (1954), and its adaptation by Nina Simone into a protest song of the Civil Rights movement (1964). It thereby reconstructs the song’s transatlantic history. “Pirate Jenny’s” central motif “the Black Freighter,” in combination with the fact that many of the song’s mediators were Jewish, suggests an immediate connection to Black internationalist politics and Jewish and Black solidarities in the USA at the time. However, this transatlantic cultural transfer proceeded discontinuously and has to be considered in its nuances to appreciate Nina Simone’s genuine contribution, which realizes the song’s political potential. This case study presents an example of the German-American literary constellations of the Black Atlantic and aims to illustrate their significance to the subfield of transatlantic literary history in Germanistik. (ETK)

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