Mary J. Blige has always felt a deep connection to the music of Nina Simone. In 2015, she recorded a jazzy, soulful cover of Simone’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” for the compilation Nina Revisited and she was previously attached to portray the vocalist in a biopic, though the role eventually went to Zoe Saldana.
Before the casting switch, though, Blige explained why Simone was so important to her in an interview with Rolling Stone. “Playing a character like Nina Simone is playing myself,” she said, “because Nina Simone was a manic depressive, drug addict, alcoholic, cursing wild maniac that I was, but very talented, so people would get that.”
She underscored her bond with Simone during an emotional speech at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cleveland, where she did the honors of welcoming the late singer into the institution on Saturday. “I am such a huge Nina Simone fan,” Blige told Rolling Stone earlier this year, “and am beyond thrilled and honored to be a part of her Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.” Here’s what she had to say about Simone at the gala.