Nina Simone – I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free

Billy Taylor originally composed this gospel jazz song as I Wish I Knew in 1952. He was spurred to write the tune when his daughter Kim came home from school singing a spiritual.

The song served as an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement in America in the 1960s. Nina’s version was recorded in 1967 on her Silk & Soul album and was widely played.

Silk and Soul peaked at #158 in the Billboard Album Charts.

It’s a beautiful moving song.


From Songfacts

Billy Taylor recorded the tune as an instrumental with a big-band lineup of 19 musicians on November 12, 1963. Taylor’s first recording of the song was done 10 days before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Once the lyrics were added, it became an anthem for the 1960s civil rights movement.

The musician’s daughter Kim, who became a law professor in New York, told The Financial Times the story how her father’s instrumental acquired lyrics.

“Dad initially recorded it as an instrumental. But, as I recall, he had written the first verse of the lyrics pretty early on. He got stuck at one point and invited [lyricist] Dick Dallas to collaborate to help him finish the lyrics and that’s when we got the later verses. I’ve always felt that there was a difference between the first verse and the later ones. I think you hear my dad’s voice most clearly in the first verse.”

Nina Simone covered the song in her 1967 album Silk & Soul. The following year, a recording by Solomon Burke reached #68 in the US charts. Other artists that have recorded versions of the tune include John Denver (1969) John Legend & The Roots (2010) and Emeli Sandé (2012).

The tune is widely known in the UK as a piano instrumental version, used for Film…, BBC Television’s long-running late night program about the cinema presented by Barry Norman. The version used by the BBC was recorded in 1967 by Taylor with a trio for his Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free album.

Coca-Cola used the song to soundtrack a feelgood 2004 TV advert featuring Basement Jaxx vocalist Sharlene Hector. The lyrics were changed to the more sentimental, “I wish I could share all the love that’s in my heart.”

I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free

I wish I knew how
It would feel to be free
I wish I could break
All the chains holding me
I wish I could say

All the things that I should say
Say ’em loud say ’em clear
For the whole round world to hear
I wish I could share
All the love that’s in my heart

Remove all the bars
That keep us apart
I wish you could know
What it means to be me
Then you’d see and agree
That every man should be free

I wish I could give
All I’m longin’ to give
I wish I could live
Like I’m longin’ to live
I wish I could do
All the things that I can do
And though I’m way over due
I’d be starting a new

Well I wish I could be
Like a bird in the sky
How sweet it would be
If I found I could fly
Oh I’d soar to the sun
And look down at the sea

Than I’d sing ’cause I know, yea
Then I’d sing ’cause I know, yea
Then I’d sing ’cause I know

I’d know how it feels
Oh I know how it feels to be free
Yea yea! oh, I know how it feels

Yes I know
Oh, I know
How it feels
How it feels
To be free

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

22 thoughts on “Nina Simone – I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free”

    1. She really is… I heard this song for the first time on one of my favorite shows ever…Life On Mars BBC…I’ve loved it ever since. I started to listen to more of her stuff after that.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That is another Life On Mars snippet I caught. it was on the soccer episode at the very end. I’m watching it again since you mentioned it. I’m on the 2nd episode of season 2.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I love Annie…love love love Annie. She was tough and every bit the match and more for the guys.
        I’m glad you enjoyed it…it was made right before TV got faster…the stories were slowed but I loved it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Nothing guilty about that. You know who you are talking to lol…70s rule…I did like the leather jacket and the stripped shirts…
        A lot of women in England loved the Gene Hunt character…that caught the actor by surprise.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: