If you want to know what Nina Simone likely thought of the lighter-skinned Zoe Saldana playing her in the recently released, heavily panned biopic “Nina,” you might want to holler at Yolanda Rabun.
“I have not seen it. I probably won’t see it, unless somebody forces me to see it,” says the Atlanta-born, Wake Forest-based Rabun, who played the N.C. jazz legend in the locally produced 2012 one-woman show “Nina Simone… What More Can I Say?”
“In my show, we actually talked about it. And my character – of course, Nina Simone – was pretty adamant that she thought it was a shame that Hollywood thought it was OK to have a woman portray her that didn’t look anything like her. And the very thing that she fought against, with people not giving women of darker complexion the opportunity to excel, they were actually using against her in her own life story. She thought that was ridiculous.”
Rabun also had some choice words for the documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?” that played at last year’s Sundance Film Festival and is currently streaming on Netflix. “I have mixed feelings about that one, too,” she says, laughing. “I think it was more about how they portrayed her, because a lot happened to Nina Simone. … I just saw a more positive person. A person with troubles, a person with demons, but a person who was continually seeking freedom and that freedom from those things which were taking her down.”
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But Rabun isn’t concentrating all her time on defending and speaking on behalf of Simone. The wife and mother of two has a lot on her plate. Rabun works as an attorney, dealing in intellectual properties and mergers and acquisitions both here and abroad. She is also one of the Triangle’s most prolific performers. Later this month, the singer/actress will take on the role of Mrs. Corry in N.C. Theatre’s production of “Mary Poppins.” And on Saturday, you can see her headline her own show at Kennedy Theatre in Raleigh’s Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts.
Saturday’s show is billed as a record-release concert for her latest album, “Yolanda” (which was actually released in March). Considering how much it took for the album to get out in the world, you can hardly blame Rabun for wanting to put on a show for it. “Yolanda,” her third release, is a crowd-funded effort. A couple of years ago, she launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $24,500 to get the album recorded and released.
Yolanda Rabun is a dreamer. Yolanda Rabun is a mover and a shaker. Yolanda Rabun is not done.
“This was my first introduction to that,” she says. “And, like anybody else I’m sure will tell you, it’s a roller-coaster ride. It’s exciting, it’s crazy – I mean, it can give you all the emotions. But you go through a myriad of emotions as you go through the campaign.
“In the end, I had amazing donors,” she says. “People who came through invested, from as low as eight dollars to numbers I can’t even imagine.” Rabun also says she went the crowdfunding route so she and her fans could make this album together. “I thought to myself, look, if you have the fan base that you think you have, if you have the support of the people about your music live and recorded, then they will help you build it.”
The album, which has her giving her soulful vocals on original songs as well as covers from such artists as Roberta Flack, Stevie Wonder and – yes – Nina Simone, will be available for purchase at the Saturday night show. Both the show and the album are examples of how determined and dedicated Rabun is at being a multi-talented performer.
Or, as she says it, “Yolanda Rabun is a dreamer. Yolanda Rabun is a mover and a shaker. Yolanda Rabun is not done.”