Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” Lyrics Meaning

Succinctly put, Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” is a gospel song. It is based on biblical precepts such as ‘sinners’ and Judgment Day. 

A “sinner”, especially within the context of this song, is someone who willfully and continuously disobeys the laws of God. Meanwhile Judgment Day is the divine moment of reckoning – a moment he will have to answer for this lifestyle. And Nina is basically telling such an individual that no matter where he decides to hide, judgment will indeed find them.

It has been put forth that this song has a general applicability outside of the context of Judgment Day, as in the singer condemning ‘sinners’ in general. However, it should be noted that some of the imagery presented therein, such as “the sea… bleeding”, were definitely borrowed from the Biblical depiction of Judgment Day.

 Conclusively the story being told in “Sinnerman” is one where the titular character tries to run from the judgment of God. Of course he woeful fails in his attempts to do so. He is therefore “captured” and instructed to “go to the devil”, who was actually anticipating his arrival.

In all, the narrator (Nina) is issuing a strong spiritual warning to all. According to her, on the Day of Judgment, there’ll be no hiding place for the sinner. She is therefore advising the sinner to change his ways before it gets too late.

Sinnerman lyrics by Nina Simone

Facts about “Sinnerman”

  • “Sinnerman” was originally written by Les Baxter (1922-1996) and Will Holt (1929-2015) in 1956. The reason this song is popularly said to have been derived from “traditional” sources is that they apparently incorporated lyrics which date as far back as at least the 1920s.
  • Nina Simone’s rendition is actually an extended version of the original. And why? Simply because hers is over 10 minutes in length (10:20 to be exact). Meanwhile Baxter and Holt’s version was three minutes and seven seconds.
  • Philips Records featured “Sinnerman”, which came out 1 October 1965, on Nina Simone’s album Pastel Blues. However, it is generally theorized that she had already been familiar with the song since childhood due to her mother, a Methodist minister, likely using it during revival meetings.
  • Production of the song was handled by Hal Mooney (1911-1995). Mooney was a renowned record producer who worked on a number Simone’s songs.
  • This track has been featured in a number of pop media throughout the years, perhaps most-notable amongst them being the 1999 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair.

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1 Response

  1. janelle says:

    as a fellow woman who has been raped several times (all by ‘trusted’ lovers) & who has had more miscarriages than ms simone, i feel she relates to these lyrics b/c of the deep hurt she had been put through. and another feeling i got out if it was loneliness.. feeling decepted. tricked. having not even the most organic beings to find.

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