Apphia Campbell journeys into the life and songs of Nina Simone in the redemptive soul of Black Is The Colour Of My Voice

Apphia Campbell: Black Is The Colour Of My Voice at Grand Opera House, York. Picture: Steve Ullathorne

INSPIRED by the life and songs of Nina Simone, American writer, director and performer Apphia Campbell wrote her play Black Is The Colour Of My Voice in 2013 and revisits it regularly.

She has returned to the stage for the autumn tour that brings her to the Grand Opera House, York, tonight (26/9/2022), after Florence Odumosu undertook the spring travels that came to the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in March.

Already, Campbell’s play has had sell-out seasons in Shanghai, New York, Edinburgh and London, where she made her West End debut at Trafalgar Studios in 2019.

“This is a new tour, with me performing it again, as I always did until Flo performed it in the spring,” says Florida-born Apphia. “That was new; that was brilliant! I wanted to take a step back from the show, let it grow seeing it performed by someone else.

“We found Flo and she was superb, doing 25 dates, which was a massive tour, and it was great for the play to take on a new life and for it to be seen in a new way. Seeing Flo made me think of doing it in a different way, with the different response of the audience.

“Now it feels new to me again, because I could try new ways of performing it, and as a writer it was affirming to know that it could have a life beyond me.”

Complemented by multiple iconic Nina Simone songs sung live by Apphia, the play follows a successful jazz singer and civil rights activist as she seeks redemption after the untimely death of her father. 

She reflects on the journey that took her from a young piano prodigy, destined for a life in the service of the church, to a renowned jazz vocalist at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement.

“I wrote it back in 2013 when I was living in China, in Shanghai. That’s where I first performed it too; there were quite  a few locals who came to see it who were not familiar with Nina, as well as the ex-pats who did,” Apphia recalls.

“I ended up doing three runs because it was so successful. Backstage was just a wicker panel, and after the shows these Chinese women would come by and hug me so tight, sobbing, saying they couldn’t believe how much Nina had been through and how she had persevered.”

Simone’s story is not as well-known as her songs. “That’s true, especially the perspective the play gives on her relationship with her father, who was such a powerful figure for her, particularly in her formative years,” says Apphia.

“Her introduction to music was through him, as he was singer, and he would introduce her to music that wasn’t necessarily gospel. I was really bowled over by that relationship when I read Nina’s autobiography.

“Her family wasn’t necessarily political, and she wouldn’t say she was political, but what changed was when she came into the realm of artists and activists after she met Lorraine Hansberry, the first African-American female author to have a play performed on Broadway.”

Hansberry’s best-known work, the play A Raisin In The Sun, highlights the lives of black Americans in Chicago living under racial segregation.

“It’s not just about the hits, the Nina songs that people know, though also people have said that the songs they do know, they now hear in a new way,” says Apphia Campbell. Picture: Steve Ullathorne

“Lorraine Hansberry was quite political, and she told Nina of the importance of using her voice, having a voice for a movement, and she emboldened her to do that,” says Apphia.

In choosing the Nina Simone songs for the play, “it was really important to use songs that either enhanced the feelings of what I was trying to say or that let the lyrics contextualise that moment in the piece,” says Apphia.

“It was hard to narrow it down, but it was vital to think about how the songs would affect the audience because creating a mood was so important to Nina. So, it’s not just about the hits, the songs that people know, though also people have said that the songs they do know, they now hear in a new way.”

Apphia was determined to show the softer side to Nina. “When I started doing this show in 2013, there was no documentary about her, no film. Though people did focus on the political side of her too, they would tell these crazy stories about pulling guns on people or walking off stage,” she says.

“But she was also a pioneer and trying to figure out who she was, and she didn’t fully understand the full impact of what her music meant to black people. Certainly singing political songs did affect her career and not always in a positive way.

“That made it important to show her vulnerability, her tender side, and I feel happy that people have connected with that.”

Apphia is keen to distance herself from comparisons with Nine Simone. “The character in the play is not called Nina Simone, but Nina Bordeaux,” she says. “Sometimes people get caught up on that thing of, ‘Does she look like Nina?; ‘Does she sound like Nina?’, and because her voice is so unique, I’ve given the character I play a name to give me more freedom to explore moments in Nina’s life and to use my voice to be more authentic emotionally.

“I’m very happy with that decision, where I don’t need to sound like Nina. I just want you to connect with the lyrics in the most authentic way and to tell the story as my authentic self, channelling Nina.”

At its heart, Black Is The Colour Of My Voice is a tale of redemption. “The play takes place during the few days of a ritual that Nina did when her father passed away, when she went to Liberia, where she saw a witchdoctor, who said, ‘I see someone trying to connect with you from the afterlife…and he likes carnation milk,” says Apphia.

“The witchdoctor said, ‘go to this room, don’t smoke, don’t drink, for three days, and you will hopefully resolve your issues’. I thought, ‘what would you do for three days in bed, clutching carnation milk?’!

“It was one of those images where I was thinking, ‘what would you do except reflect on ‘how did I get to this point?’. It felt like the most natural way to go through her life in the play, thinking about the decisions that had got her to that point.”

Seabright Productions presents Apphia Campbell in Black Is The Colour Of My Voice, Grand Opera House, York, September 26, 7.30pm. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or Suitable for age 12 upwards.

What is Apphia Campbell’s favourite Nina Simone song?

“Plain Gold Ring. I find myself humming it two or three times a week. I love her voice, I love her storytelling; I love the piano playing, and it’s so mysterious, with all the spaces in the song…but there was no way to put it in the show.”

More Things To Do in and around York: when the love of music and food combine, plan on. List No. 99, courtesy of The Press

Over the Moon: Chef Stephanie Moon, delighted to be cooking in the York Food and Drink Festival demonstration kitchen on Wednesday at 1pm

FOOD for thought from Charles Hutchinson as he contemplates what’s on the menu for autumn days and nights out. 

Festival of the week: York Food and Drink Festival, Parliament Street and St Sampson’s Square, York, packed with flavour until October 2

IN its 26th year, York Food and Drink Festival offers demonstrations and hands-on participation, taste trails and wine tastings, markets and street food, with two marquees and live music until 9pm.

Look out for the free Food Factory cookery classes in the Museum Gardens and the Coppergate Centre; trails through the doors of artisan food producers, delicatessens and restaurants; Bedern Hall crowning York’s finest pork pie at its York Pork Pie competition and York Mansion House hosting a week-long tea exhibition and tasting. Head to for the full five-course details.  

For the love of Nina Simone: Apphia Campbell in Black Is The Colour Of My Voice, Grand Opera House, York, Monday, 7.30pm

Apphia Campbell: Brings her play to York on Monday

INSPIRED by the life of Nina Simone, writer, director and performer Apphia Campbell’s play follows a successful jazz singer and civil rights activist as she seeks redemption after the untimely death of her father. 

Complemented by many of Simone’s most iconic songs sung live, she reflects on the journey that took her from a young piano prodigy, destined for a life in the service of the church, to a renowned jazz vocalist at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or

Cameron Sharp: Confirmed for Stacee Jaxx role in Rock Of Ages

Musical of the week: Rock Of Ages, Grand Opera House, York, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm; 2.30pm Saturday matinee

CAMERON Sharp returns to the rock demi-god role of Stacee Jaxx on the latest tour on Rock Of Ages after earlier appearances in the West End and on the road. He joins Coronation Street legend Kevin Kennedy, playing ornery Bourbon Room owner Dennis Dupree once more in this tongue-in-cheek musical comedy kitted out with classic rock anthems galore, from The Final Countdown to We Built This City, all played loud and proud.

The storyline invites you to “leave it all behind and lose yourself in a city and a time where the dreams are as big as the hair, and yes, they can come true.” Box office:0844 871 7615 or

Lucy Worsley: Uncovering the real, revolutionary, thoroughly modern Agatha Christie

History meets mystery: An Evening With Lucy Worsley On Agatha Christie, York Theatre Royal, Monday, 7.30pm

THE Queen of History will investigate the Queen of Crime in an illustrated talk that delves into the life of such an elusive, enigmatic 20th century figure.

Why did Agatha Christie spend her career pretending that she was just an ordinary housewife, a retiring Edwardian lady of leisure, when clearly she wasn’t? Agatha went surfing in Hawaii, loved fast cars and was intrigued by psychology, the new science that helped her through mental illness. 

Sharing her research of the storyteller’s personal letters and papers, writer, broadcaster, speaker and Historic Royal Palaces chief curator Lucy Worsley will uncover the real, revolutionary, thoroughly modern Christie. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Steve Hackett: Revisiting his Genesis past in Foxtrot At Fifty at York Barbican

Golden celebrations of the week: Steve Hackett, Genesis Revisited – Foxtrot At Fifty + Hackett Highlights, York Barbican, tonight, 7.30pm; Don McLean, 50th Anniversary of American Pie, York Barbican, Wednesday, 7.30pm

GUITARIST Steve Hackett, 72, revisits Genesis’s landmark 1972 prog rock album Foxtrot, the one with the 23-minute Supper’s Ready, preceded by an hour of highlights from his six years in the band and his solo career.

New Rochelle troubadour Don McLean, 76, marks the 50th anniversary of his 1971 album American Pie and its 1972 top two single, the poetic 8 minute 36 sec title track, a double A-side that had to be split over two sides of the vinyl with its mysterious, mystical tale of lost innocence “the day the music died”. Expect Vincent, Castles In The Air and  And I Love You So too. Box office:

Missus in action: Katherine Ryan mulls over life, love, marriage and motherhood at York Barbican

Comedy gig of the week, Katherine Ryan, Missus, York Barbican, Thursday, 8pm

AFTER previously denouncing partnerships, Canadian-born comedian, writer, presenter, podcaster and actress Ryan has since married her first love…accidentally.

“A lot has changed for everyone,” says the creator and star of Netflix series The Duchess and host of BBC Two’s jewellery-making competition All That Glitters, who looks forward to discussing her new perspectives on life, love and what it means to be Missus. Box office:

Budge up! Everyone tries to find Room On The Broom in Tall Stories’ staging of Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler’s picture book. Picture: Mark Senior

Children’s show of the week: Tall Stories Theatre Company in Room On The Broom, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday, 1.30pm and 4.30pm; Wednesday, 10.30am and 1.30pm

IGGETY Ziggety Zaggety Boom! Jump on board the broom with the witch and her cat in Tall Stories’ adaptation of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s picture book.

When they pick up some hitch-hikers – a friendly dog, a beautiful green bird and a frantic frog – alas the broomstick is not meant for five. Crack, it snaps in two  just as the hungry dragon appears.

Will there ever be room on the broom for everyone? Find out in this 60-minute, magical, Olivier Award-nominated show for everyone aged three upwards. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Wild Murphys, wild times: Tribute band revel in Irish bar favourites in One Night In Dublin

Irish craic of the week: One Night In Dublin, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, Thursday, 7.30pm

IRISH tribute band The Wild Murphys roll out the Irish classics, Galway Girl, Tell Me Ma, Dirty Old Town, The Irish Rover, Brown Eyed Girl, Seven Drunken Nights, Whiskey In The Jar, Wild Rover and Molly Malone.

Kick back in Murphy’s Pub, sing along and imagine being back in Temple Bar as Middi and his band roar into York. “Ah, go on, go on, go on!” they say. Box office: 01904 501935 or

Tom Robinson at 72: Sing if you’re glad to be grey at The Crescent

2-4-6-8, don’t be late: Tom Robinson Band and TV Smith (solo), The Crescent, York, Friday, 7.30pm

PUNK veteran, LGBTQ rights activist and BBC 6 Music presenter Tom Robinson returns to The Crescent with his band to reactivate 2-4-6-8 Motorway, Glad To Be Gay, Up Against The Wall, The Winter Of ’79 and the cream of his early albums, 1978’s Power In The Darkness, 1979’s TRB Two, and beyond, maybe War Baby.

Support comes from  TV Smith, once part of Seventies’ punks The Adverts, of  Gary Gilmore’s Eyes notoriety. Box office:

Don McLean: Marking American Pie’s golden landmark at York Barbican on Wednesday

Nina Simone’s life story as jazz singer and civil rights activist charted in Black Is The Color Of My Voice at Scarborough’s SJT

Florence Odumosu as Nina Simone in Apphia Campbell’s play Black Is The Color Of My Voice

BLACK Is The Color Of My Voice, writer-director Apphia Campbell’s play Inspired by the life of Nina Simone, plays Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre on March 12.

After sell-out seasons in Shanghai, New York, Edinburgh and London’s West End, Seabright Productions’ national tour will take in further Yorkshire performances at the Square Chapel Arts Centre, Halifax, on March 8 and the Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield, on March 16, all three starting at 7.30pm.

Florence Odumosu will play the North Carolina-born jazz singer and civil rights activist in Campbell’s story of Simone seeking redemption after the untimely death of her father. 

Simone reflects on the journey that took her from a young piano prodigy, destined for a life in the service of the church, to a renowned jazz vocalist and pianist at the forefront of the civil rights movement.

Campbell, the IASH playwrighting fellow for 2021, is originally from the United States, where she graduated from Florida International University with a BFA in theatre performance.

She wrote Black Is The Color Of My Voice in 2013. In 2017, her show with Meredith Yarbrough, Woke, was presented as part of the Made In Scotland Showcase, where it won a Scotsman Fringe First.

In 2019, she made her West End debut with Black Is The Color Of My Voice at Trafalgar Studios and had a London premiere of Woke at Battersea Arts Centre.

In 2020, her first commission for the BBC, the children’s story Zachary The Zebroid, was aired; she wrote Birdie’s Dilemma for Scenes For Survival (BBC in collaboration with NTS Scotland), and she was among the six writers for the National Theatre of Scotland’s Christmas show, Rapunzel.

Black Is The Color Of My Voice is recommended for age 12 upwards. Scarborough box office: 01723 370 541 or at; Halifax, 01422 349422 or; Huddersfield, 01484 430528 or