Nina Simone

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Nina Simone
Nina Simone in 1965
Nina Simone in 1965
Background information
Birth nameEunice Kathleen Waymon
Born(1933-02-21)February 21, 1933
Tryon, North Carolina, United States
DiedApril 21, 2003(2003-04-21) (aged 70)
Carry-le-Rouet France
GenresBlack Classical, Jazz, Blues, soul, R&B, folk, gospel
Occupation(s)Classical Pianist[Classical Music Composer-Interpreter]] [[[singer]] and songwriter
Instrumentsvoice, piano
Years active1954–2003
LabelsRCA Victor, Philips, Bethlehem, Colpix, Legacy Recordings

Nina Simone (born Eunice Kathleen Waymon; February 21, 1933 – April 21, 2003) was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger and civil rights activist. Simone did not like people to classify her music, or say what genre it fell into, but people often call her a jazz musician. She was often called "The High Priestess of Soul".

Early life[change | change source]

Nina Simone was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina in 1933. She was one of eight children in a poor family. She began playing the piano when she was age of three. The first song she learned was "God be With You, Till we Meet Again" and she played at her local church. Her first concert was a classical piano recital, when she was twelve. Her parents sat on the front row to watch her, but were made to move to the back of the hall to make way for white people. Simone said she would not to play until her parents were moved back to the front.[1][2] She remembered this event later when she got involved with the civil rights movement.

Simone's mother, Mary Kate Waymon was a strict Methodist minister. Her father, John Divine Waymon, was a handyman, and sometimes a barber, who was often ill. Mrs. Waymon worked as a maid and her employer, hearing of Simone's talent, gave them money for piano lessons.[3] After that, a local fund was made to help in carrying on her education. When she was 17, Simone moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She found more racism here when she applied for a scholarship at a local college. She had to take a test, and passed it, but she was not given the scholarship. When she asked the examiner why she was not given a scholarship, the examiner told her "because you're black."

After this, Simone became very passionate about the civil rights movement. She began to earn money teaching piano and accompanying singers. This money helped her to study at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. She applied to study piano at the Curtis Institute, but was not successful. She believed that this too was because she was black, and because she was a woman.[4]

Early career (1954–1959)[change | change source]

Simone played the piano at the Midtown Bar & Grill on Pacific Avenue in Atlantic City to earn money for her studying. The owner said that she would only get the job if she would sing as well as play the piano. She did not want her mother to know that she was playing "the devil's music", so she started using the stage name Nina Simone. She got "Nina" from a nickname given to her by a boyfriend, and "Simone" from a French actress called Simone Signoret.[5] Simone played and sang a mixture of jazz, blues and classical music at the bar. She began to get fans.[6] In 1958 she recorded a song called "I Loves You Porgy", from Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin. She had learned the song from a Billie Holiday album, and performed it as a favor for a friend. It became her only Billboard top 40 success in the United States. Soon, she recorded her first album Little Girl Blue on Bethlehem Records. Simone never earned money from the album because she sold the rights for $3000, missing out on more than $1 million of royalties.[7]

Simone then signed a contract with the record company Colpix Records and released several studio and live albums. Colpix let her have control over choosing the material that she recorded. Simone made sure she had control and did not really mind whether she had a recording contract or not. She only played pop music to make money for her classical music studies.[8]

Civil rights era (1964–1974)[change | change source]

In the 1960s, Simone was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.[9] In 1964, Simone began to work with the Dutch record label Philips. She began to record songs about her African-American origins and racial inequality. She recorded a live album called Nina Simone In Concert which included the song "Mississippi Goddam". It was about the murder of Medgar Evers and the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four black children. The song was boycotted in some southern states.[10][11] With "Old Jim Crow" on the same album she reacts to the Jim Crow Laws.

After that, a civil rights was a common theme in Simone's songs. Simone performed and spoke at many civil rights meetings, like the Selma to Montgomery marches.[12] She sang a version Billie Holiday's song "Strange Fruit" (on Pastel Blues), a song about the lynching of black men in the South. She also a poem by W. Cuney called "Images" on her 1966 album Let It All Out, about the lack of pride in African-American women. Simone wrote "Four Women", a song about four different stereotypes of African-American women.[10] It was on her 1966 album Wild Is the Wind

Simone moved from Philips to RCA Victor in 1967. She sang "Backlash Blues", written by her friend Langston Hughes on her first RCA album, Nina Simone Sings The Blues. On Silk & Soul she recorded Billy Taylor's "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free" and "Turning Point". The 1968 album Nuff Said has some live recordings from the Westbury Music Fair, April 7, 1968, three days after the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. She dedicated the whole performance to him and sang "Why? (The King Of Love Is Dead)". This was a song written by her bass player straight after they heard the news of King's death.[13]

Together with Weldon Irvine, Simone turned Lorraine Hansberry's unfinished play To Be Young, Gifted and Black into a civil rights song. She performed it live on her 1970 album Black Gold. A studio recording was released as a single, and the song has been covered by Aretha Franklin and Donny Hathaway.[10][14]

Later life (1974–2003)[change | change source]

Simone left the United States in September 1970. She flew to Barbados. She thought that her husband and manager, Andrew Stroud, would tell her when she had to perform again. However, Stroud thought that Simone's sudden disappearance (and the fact that she had left behind her wedding ring) meant that she wanted a divorce. As her manager, Stroud was also in charge of Simone's income. This meant that after their separation Simone did not know anything about how her business was managed and what she was actually worth. When she came back to the United States, she found out that she was wanted for not paying taxes. She went back to Barbados again to get away from the authorities and prosecution.[15] She stayed in Barbados for quite some time, and had a long affair with the Prime Minister, Errol Barrow.[16][17] A close friend, singer Miriam Makeba, persuaded her to go to Liberia in Africa. After that she lived in Switzerland and the Netherlands. She went to live in France in 1992.

She recorded her last album for RCA Records, It Is Finished, during 1974. In 1978 CTI Records owner Creed Taylor persuaded her to record another album, Baltimore. This album got good reviews, but did not make much money.[18] Four years later Simone recorded Fodder On My Wings on a French record label. During the 1980s Simone performed regularly at Ronnie Scott's jazz club in London. She recorded an album there in 1984 called Live at Ronnie Scott's. On stage, Simone often seemed to be haughty and aloof but seemed to enjoy talking to her audiences. In 1987, her 1958 song "My Baby Just Cares For Me" was used in an advert for Chanel No. 5 perfume in the UK. After that, the song was released again and it went to number 5 in the UK singles chart, making Simone more popular in the UK. Her autobiography, I Put a Spell on You, was published in 1992 and she recorded her last album, A Single Woman, in 1993.

Death[change | change source]

In 1993 Simone went to live near Aix-en-Provence in Southern France. She was ill with breast cancer for several years. She died of the disease in her sleep at her home in Carry-le-Rouet, Bouches-du-Rhône on April 21, 2003. Her funeral service was attended by singers Miriam Makeba and Patti LaBelle, poet Sonia Sanchez, actor Ossie Davis and hundreds of other people. Elton John sent a flowers with the message "We were the greatest and I love you".[19] Simone's ashes were scattered in several African countries. She left behind a daughter, Lisa Celeste, who is now an actress and singer who took on the stage name Simone.[20]

References[change | change source]

  1. Simone. I Put a Spell on You. p. 26.
  2. Hampton. Break Down And Let It All Out. p. 15.
  3. Simone. I Put a Spell on You. p. 21.
  4. Simone. I Put a Spell on You. pp. 41–43.
  5. Brun-Lambert. Nina Simone, het tragische lot van een uitzonderlijke zangeres. p. 56.
  6. Simone. I Put a Spell on You. pp. 48–52.
  7. Simone. I Put a Spell on You. p. 60.
  8. Simone. I Put a Spell on You. p. 65.
  9. "Mary J. Blige to play Nina Simone". Archived from the original on 2010-07-19. Retrieved 2017-08-31.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Mark Anthony Neal (2003-06-04). "Nina Simone: She Cast a Spell—and Made a Choice". Archived from the original on 2007-07-15. Retrieved 2007-08-14.
  11. Simone. I Put a Spell on You. pp. 90–91.
  12. "The Nina Simone Web: Chronology". 2003. Archived from the original on 2008-12-30. Retrieved 2007-08-05.
  13. Simone. I Put a Spell on You. pp. 114–115.
  14. Lords, Frank (1992-06-13), Nina Simone: La légende (Documentary, Biography, Music), La Sept, System TV, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), retrieved 2022-04-16
  15. Simone. I Put a Spell on You. pp. 120–122.
  16. Simone. I Put a Spell on You. pp. 129–134.
  17. Brun-Lambert. Nina Simone, het tragische lot van een uitzonderlijke zangeres. p. 231.
  18. Celeste Sunderland (2005-07-01). "All about Jazz: review "Fodder on My Wings" & "Baltimore"". Retrieved 2007-08-05.
  19. "BBCnews: Funeral held for singer Simone". 2003-04-25. Retrieved 2007-07-22.
  20. Jonathan Frank. "Talking Broadway Seattle: Aida". Retrieved 2007-08-14.

Other websites[change | change source]