March 26

Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” Draws Inspiration from Exodus

“Sinnerman” or “Sinner Man” is a traditional spiritual song of African-American origin. It was written by Eunice Kathleen Waylon, professionally known as Nina Simone. The lyrics heavily drew reference from the book of Exodus. If you are familiar with the story of Moses leading a group of people out of Egypt, you can easily grasp this song’s message.

"Sinnerman" by Nina Simone was based on the book of Exodus.
Photo credit: Nina Simone/Official Facebook Page

The Message Behind Simone’s “Sinnerman” 

The part of the story where the people got punished by a series of plagues provided the exact basis of this song. But why did those people have to go through such kinds of punishment? It’s because of their pretentious way of repenting for their sins. If you open your Bible particularly in the book of Psalm 78, you’ll find out that the same story is told there.

We are all sinners. Hence, the song exactly narrates what we do each time we succumb to temptations that are ever present in this world. When we committed a sin, we try to run elsewhere, trying to hide as if doing such would let those sins disappear. And the moment we remember calling God, we still ask Him to hide us instead of repenting for our sins. Indeed, we are sinners, men full of pride and unwilling to submit ourselves to the Lord. Despite such, God loves us unconditionally. And, He is always ready to forgive our sins as long as we repent from the heart.

Nina Simone, Sinnerman
image via

The Origin of the Song

While “Sinnerman” is already considered a traditional African-American spiritual, it traces its roots from a Scottish folk song. That song captivated the heart of young Nina Simone after hearing it the first time while playing piano at her local church. The song was a powerful tune being sung at prayer meetings and revivals to bring sinners to the altar.

During an interview in 1969, Simone told Ebony how much she loved playing the song during those events.

“Some of my most fantastic experiences – experiences that really shake me, now that I think of them – happened in the church when we’d have these revival meetings. I’d be playiNnNnNnNnNng, boy! I’d really be playing. I loved it! Folks would be shoutin’ all over the place. Now that’s my background!”

It was said that there are times Simone would perform the song live for fifteen long minutes. And she does so with an outpouring of intense emotion. The late singer included her recorded version of the song on her 1965 album Pastel Blues.

Watch her rousing performance of the song below.


Nina Simone

  • Thanks for this article, Country Daily. While your interpretation is good, can’t help but to point out that Sinnerman, I believe, was drawn from Genesis. It’s when Adam and Eve “realized” that they sinned so they hid from the Lord when He walked into the garden. On the other hand, the Book of Isaiah has a prophecy about people hiding behind rocks when the second coming, well, comes.

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