Thursday, February 18, 2016



   Nina Simone was born in 1933 and died in 2003.  Her mother was a minister and Nina played her first tune on the church organ by age 8.   By age 10 she was the church organist.  She was born in Tyron, North Carolina and her name was Eunice Waymon.  Although she had a scholarship raised by local patrons, she was denied admission to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.  So she turned to singing in clubs, and in 1959 recorded a hit "I Loves You Porgy".  She took the professional name of Nina Simone.

   Nina Simone was a singer, a pianist (she could've been a concert pianist without US apartheid), a civil rights activist, and much more.   Born February 21st - she shares the month - 1933, she did study at Juilliard to study classical piano but left early due to lack of money.  [  differs from other information a bit.)   She turned to jazz, blues, and folk music and performed in clubs.  In the 1960s she was identified as a voice of the civil rights movement.

   "In many ways, Simone's music defied standard definitions. Her classical training showed through, no matter what genre of song she played, and she drew from many sources including gospel, pop and folk. She was often called the "High Priestess of Soul," but she hated that nickname. She didn't like the label of "jazz singer", either. "If I had to be called something, it should have been a folk singer because there was more folk and blues than jazz in my playing," she later wrote."
   "By the mid-1960s, Simone became known as the voice of the civil rights movement. She wrote "Mississippi Goddam" in response to the 1963 assassination of Medgar Evers and the Birmingham church bombing that killed four young African-American girls. After the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, Simone penned "Why (The King of Love Is Dead)." She also wrote "Young, Gifted and Black," borrowing the title of a play by Hansberry, which became a popular anthem at the time."

  "As the 1960s drew to a close, Simone tired of the American music scene and the country's deeply divided racial politics. She lived in several different countries, including Liberia, Switzerland, England and Barbados before eventually settling down in the South of France. For years, Simone also struggled with her finances, and clashed with managers, record labels, and the Internal Revenue Service."

"Around this time, Simone recorded cover songs of popular music, putting her own spin on such songs as Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'" and the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun." She also showed her sensual side with the song "I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl." She then took a break from recording, returning in 1978 with the album Baltimore. The title track was a cover version of a Randy Newman song. Critics gave the album a warm reception, but it did not do well commercially."
   "Simone went through a career renaissance in the late 1980s when her song "My Baby Just Cares For Me" was used in a perfume commercial in the United Kingdom. The song became a Top 10 hit in Britain. She also penned her autobiography, I Put a Spell on You, which was published in 1992. Her next recording, A Single Woman, came out in 1993. To support these works, Simone gave some performances in the United States."

   "Touring periodically, Simone maintained a strong fan base that filled concert halls whenever she performed. She appeared in New York City in 1998, her first trip there in five years. The New York Times critic Jon Pareles reviewed the concert, saying that "there is still power in her voice" and the show featured "a beloved sound, a celebrated personality, and a repertory that magnifies them both."        "That same year, Simone attended South African leader Nelson Mandela's 80th birthday celebration."
In her final years, Nina Simone battled with health problems. Some reports indicate she was battling breast cancer, but that claim has not been officially confirmed. She died on April 21, 2003, at her home in Carry-le-Rouet, France."

   "While she may be gone, Simone left a lasting impression on the world of music. She sang to share her truth, and her work still resonates with great emotion and power. Simone has inspired an array of performers, from Aretha Franklin to Joni Mitchell. Her deep, distinctive voice continues to be a popular choice for television and film soundtracks."

    "To me we are the most beautiful creatures in the whole world…Black people. I mean that in every sense."
— Nina Simone

P.S. While I don't know how accurate this is, "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free - The Secret Diary of Nina Simone" by Joe Hagan is much more revelatory and rich about Nina Simone. I hope you'll read it.
   Hagan details some of Simone's struggles with what most likely was bi-polar disorder. She wanted to be a classical pianist who played Bach, but she made a name as a singer, songwriter and performer of others and her own music, what she would call "folk".  She also was an excellent writer at times. How much better would her life have been had she had access to better therapy and medication? We'll never know.  But her music will always be with us -- I always felt it as the background to my own life.

   In an excerpt, Hagan hits on Simone's possibly bisexuality, as well as need for her strong husband Stroud, a Harlem policeman who also beat her.   "In late 1962, Simone had given birth to her only child, a daughter named Lisa Celeste. Stroud wouldn’t allow Simone to breastfeed the baby, telling her he was jealous. Perhaps inevitably, Simone began spending more time with a woman who would alter her worldview: Lorraine Hansberry, the activist and playwright who wrote A Raisin in the Sun and who authored “The Movement,” the handbook for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The two spent weekends together at Hansberry’s country home in Westchester County, outside Manhattan, talking for hours about black identity and revolutionary politics, which had held little interest for Simone in the past. “Lorraine carried her over into high gear, put her on fire,” Stroud says. After meeting Hansberry one afternoon, Simone asked him to help locate the basin that fed water to New York City. “Why?” he asked. Because, she declared, “We’ve got to go poison the reservoir!”

Short Bio -    Asheville Citizen Times
"Official Home" -   Netflix Film - What Happened to Miss Simone? nominated for an Oscar. -- 
Nina Simone's Insistent Blackness - 
Joe Hagan - The Secret Diary of Nina Simone --
Nina Simone's Time Is Now, Again - NY Times -  
Facebook page - 

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