Nina Simone life and biography

Nina Simone picture, image, poster

Nina Simone biography

Date of birth : 1933-02-21
Date of death : 2003-04-21
Birthplace : Tryon, North Carolina, U.S.
Nationality : American-French
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2010-07-09
Credited as : Jazz and soul singer-songwriter, actress,

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Nina Simone, born February 21, 1933 in Tryon, North Carolina, United States - died April 21, 2003 in Carry-le-Rouet, France is an American-French jazz singer-songwriter, pianist, actress and musician whose unique, soulful voice and musical talent placed her in the pantheon of great African-American female singers.

Simone was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina, to Mary Kate Waymon, an ordained Methodist minister, and John D. Waymon, a handyman. She was one of eight children.

Acutely aware of the South’s rigid racial hierarchy, Simone used her music as an expression of her own political protest. At the age of ten, she confronted the unjust reality of southern segregation directly. In 1943, while performing publicly for the first time in a piano recital in her hometown, Simone watched as her parents were replaced in the front row of the audience by two white observers. After Simone graduated in 1950 from the Allen High School for Girls in Asheville, North Carolina, she and her family left the South for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Simone subsequently found work there as an accompanist. She was never to return to the South other than in a professional capacity.

The same year that her family relocated to Philadelphia, Simone enrolled in the Juilliard School of Music in New York City to study classical piano. She had hoped to enter Philadelphia’s prestigious Curtis Institute of Music, but the school refused to accept Simone as a student. Since she had received excellent scores on the entrance examinations, Simone was convinced that the school turned down her application because of her race. She realized that the color of her skin would plague her life and career even outside the South.

Simone attended Julliard for two years but did not receive a degree. In 1954, after moving permanently to New York City and upon beginning a job at the Midtown Bar and Grill in Atlantic City, New Jersey, she assumed the pseudonym of Nina Simone. The name was both a tribute to the French actress Simone Signoret and a protective measure designed to keep her mother, who would disapprove of her daughter’s performing in a bar, from discovering where Simone worked. The Atlantic City job symbolized the beginning of Waymon’s new life as Nina Simone, for it was this job that marked the beginning of Simone’s singing career; Simone had applied for the position of accompanist but was hired contingent upon her singing the songs she played.

Simone made her first record deal with Bethlehem Records in 1957, yet it took another two years for her to have a million-seller with “I Loves You Porgy.” Simone’s version of this George Gershwin song was the only one of her recordings to reach the music charts in the United States.

Inspired by the social revolution taking place in the 1960s, the songs Simone wrote herself indicted the racial hierarchy of the South with critical lyrics and haunting melodies—songs such as 1964’s “Mississippi Goddam,” a song of outrage and fury over the 1963 murder of the civil rights activist Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi, and the deaths of four girls killed in the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Other noteworthy protest songs included “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black,” a 1970 tribute to the life of the author Lorraine Hansberry; “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” (1967); and “Backlash Blues,” released on the 1967 album Nina Simone Sings the Blues, Simone’s first record on the RCA label.

Her lyrics often shocked listeners, not only for their critique of America’s racism but also for their criticism of American sexism. Simone used her music to expose the unique discrimination experienced by African-American women, well-illustrated in her 1965 song “Four Women.” “Four Women” condemns the dehumanization of African-American women, as illustrated in stereotypes that render them purely sexual creatures who serve little purpose other than to be sexual servants to men.

While Simone’s political lyrics and condemnation of America’s racial inequality made her an icon of the civil rights movement, the content of these songs caused her career to suffer. Because of waning interest and diminishing financial offers from major record labels by the early 1970s, combined with an Internal Revenue Service investigation into her tax records in the late 1970s (Simone had withheld her taxes for a period in the 1960s as a protest against American racism), Simone chose to live as an expatriate abroad, taking a hiatus from performing. Her 1974 relocation to Barbados began a global trek, with Simone living in England, Switzerland, and Liberia, before settling permanently in France in 1991.

In the course of her career, Simone released a total of sixty albums. Her repertoire included jazz, gospel, blues, and soul music, yet Simone pointed to classical music as an inspiration for her writing; she created over 600 original songs, while covering hundreds more by artists from a variety of musical backgrounds, such as Bob Dylan (“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” released in 1969), the Bee Gees (“To Love Somebody,” released in 1969), and Judy Collins (“My Father,” released in 1978).

Simone sang professionally only on occasion from 1978 until her death, but her 1987 licensing of “My Baby Just Cares for Me”—the second single Simone had released from her 1959 album, Little Girl Blue—for use in a television commercial for the fragrance Chanel No. 5, exposed a new generation to her unique singing style and songwriting skills. Her final recording, A Single Woman, was released in 1993.

While Simone’s professional life was easily visible through her recordings and public performances, her personal life was shrouded in mystery. Simone married twice. Her first marriage, to Don Ross, lasted from 1958 to 1959; her second marriage, to Andy Stroud, lasted from 1960 to 1970. Out of this union came Simone’s only child, her daughter, Lisa Celeste Stroud, born in 1961 and later an actress and singer known simply as Simone. Nina Simone rarely named the partners in relationships that followed, mentioning only that she never lacked male companionship.

Simone died at the age of seventy of natural causes in Carry-le-Rout, Bouches-du-Rhone, a small town in the south of France. Her cremated remains were scattered in a variety of locations on the continent of Africa.

While Simone maintained an aura of mystery around her public and personal persona, her musical contributions to the worlds of soul, blues, and jazz cannot be hidden. Her mournful, baritone voice brought passion to her songs of love and loss, while similarly bringing rage and fury to her protests against American racism. The popularity that Simone’s music enjoyed later in her life is evidenced by the use of her songs in such feature films as Point of No Return (1993) and the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair (1999).

Simone’s autobiography, I Put a Spell on You: The Autobiography of Nina Simone, written with Stephen Cleary (1992), is the most reliable source of information on her life. The foremost biography is Sylvia Hampton with David Nathan, with a foreword by Lisa Simone Kelly, Nina Simone: Break Down and Let It All Out (2004), providing additional information omitted in Simone’s own version of her life story. Many collections feature summary biographies of Simone’s musical contributions: Morgan Monceaux, Jazz: My Music, My People (1994); Barbara O’Dair, ed., Trouble Girls: The Rolling Stone Book of Women in Rock (1997); and David Nathan, The Soulful Divas: Personal Portraits of Over a Dozen Divine Divas (1999). An obituary is in the New York Times (22 Apr. 2003).

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