"Four Women" - Nina Simone

I’ve been trying to find some background information about Nina Simone’s song “Four Women.” Lyrics here. The song seems simple enough on the outset, Simone sings four verses, each one describing a downtrodden woman and ending the verse by stating her name. All the women are either black or mixed race, and all of them have suffered in some way due to racial discrimination. But who are these women? Are they just four arbitrary women, or are they historically significant in some way?

What puzzles me most is the final verse. For most of the song, the music & singing are low-key, moody, atmospheric and quiet. Towards the end of the final verse though, Simone jarringly starts banging on the piano keys and shrilly screaming out the lyrics “My! Name! Is! PEACHES!!!” in an overly dramatic manner that suggests to me that this was supposed to be a shocking surprise ending to the song. As if we, the listeners, are supposed to gasp in amazement and think “OMG! That was Peaches she was singing about!” But who the hell is Peaches?

If anybody could shed some light on this subject, I’d appreciate it. Thanks.

I always interpreted it as an assertion of identity, not a dramatic reveal. The other 3 women are somewhat resigned to their fates, and are victims of history, prejudice, and oppression. I also interpreted them to represent successive generations, which makes Peaches the youngest and the most likely to fight back (figuratively more than literally, IMHO) against the cultural forces which she rightfully sees as aligned against her.

That sounds really cheery.


Is it just me or does the “MY. NAME. IS…PEACHES!!!” part come off as a little melodramatic? I don’t know, I kept wanting to giggle but felt bad to.

I always thought the point of that was the irony of the cutesy name compared to the violent rage of the character’s attitude.

I have the same reaction. It might’ve worked better if the rage built up as the song progressed, but as it is, the effect is so…sudden. It’s just “somber verse, somber verse, somber verse, somber ver-ANGRY FINISH!!”

That’s Nina Simone. Frankly, I think she made melodrama work, but yeah it’s definitely melodrama. (You think “Four Women” is over the top, try to track down her version of “Pirate Jenny.”)

This is my take on it, too. I don’t think the name “Peaches” was supposed to be one that the listener recognized, it was just that woman’s name.

Now, why Simone chose the name “Peaches” rather than some other name has always been a mystery to me. The names of the other women all relate to their characters (“Sweet Thing” is obvious, “Saffronia” is derived from the yellow spice “saffron”, “Aunt Sarah” may have no nieces or nephews but is in aunt in the same sense as Aunt Jemima), but “Peaches” doesn’t seem like a fitting name for the angry young woman in the final verse. Maybe it’s supposed to be ironic, as Biffy suggested, I don’t know.

Well, allow me to retort…

Aunt Sarah is original…black, could be second generation African. She takes care of the masters children. The Master gets her in his sights…being around the house all the time.

Aunt Sarah(stereotype aunt Jemima) could have been raped by the Master of the house creating Saffronia. Perhaps her skin is the color of Saffron. Her mother may have taken care of the house and raped but she is used more for a sexual purpose, as well as maid duties. Of course she bares the masters child…

Sweet Thing…her skin is tan. Her mother was used sexually. She may be mentally strong but sees her position in life…echoing her mothers…sex is used to make her living. She literally sells herself for money. A different kind of slavery. Perhaps selling herself to anyone;white,black, other. She bares a child.

An angry child raised on the streets. A child of slaves who wants to rebel against this harsh world her parents and parents parents were forced to endure. She could be a child of the 60’s. Perhaps her mother thought she would be a “Sweet Thang” like herself but Peaches rebels! And she shouts loud her name and shakes her fist in defiance of it all! I am here! I am valid! I am not here to be used by any! I will not be what you define me as but I will take what I was given and make it my own. Not sweet and demure but loud and in your face!

Like many black folk feeling invisible in the world and forced to carry on like a zombie amidst others intentions…she makes her own. My name is PEACHES!

The way I see it, they’re archetypes. They represent four different types of black women. They’re individuals and they are distinct from each other, but their experiences are common to a lot of black American women historically. And I agree about the name Peaches. I didn’t get it the first time I heard the song, but Simone is exploring the irony in a girl being given this sweet name becoming someone so angry.

According to Simone’s biography Princess Noire:

Nina herself described “Four Women” as an homage to black women, their varying skin tones influencing “their ideas of beauty and their own importance…All the song did was to tell what entered the minds of most black women in America when they thought about themselves: their complexion, their hair - straight, kinky, natural, which? And what other women thought of them. Black women didn’t know what the hell they wanted because they were defined by things they didn’t control.”

And Saffronia is actually Sephronia.