Eunice Kathleen Waymon (February 21, 1933 – April 21, 2003), better known by her stage name Nina Simone , was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and civil rights activist widely associated with jazz music. Simone aspired to become a classical pianist while working in a broad range of styles including classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop.
Born the sixth child of a preacher's family in North Carolina, Simone aspired to be a concert pianist as a child. Her musical path changed direction after she was denied a scholarship to the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, despite a well-received audition. Simone was later told by someone working at Curtis that she was rejected because she was black. She then began playing in a small club in Philadelphia to fund her continuing musical education to become a classical pianist and was required to sing as well. She was approached for a recording by Bethlehem Records, and her rendition of "I Loves You Porgy" became a smash hit in the United States in 1958. Over the length of her career, Simone recorded more than 40 albums, mostly between 1958 — when she made her debut with Little Girl Blue — and 1974.
Her musical style arose from a fusion of gospel and pop songs with classical music, in particular with influences from her first inspiration, Johann Sebastian Bach, and accompanied with her expressive jazz-like singing in her characteristic low tenor. She injected as much of her classical background into her music as possible to give it more depth and quality, as she felt that pop music was inferior to classical. Her intuitive grasp on the audience-performer relationship was gained from a unique background of playing piano accompaniment for church revivals and sermons regularly from the early age of six years.
After 20 years of performing, she became involved in the civil rights movement and the direction of her life shifted once again. Simone's music was highly influential in the fight for equal rights in the US
Simone was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina. The sixth of eight children in a poor family, she began playing piano at age three; the first song she learned was "God Be With You, Till We Meet Again". Demonstrating a talent with the instrument, she performed at her local church, but her concert debut, a classical recital, was given when she was twelve. Simone later claimed that during this performance her parents, who had taken seats in the front row, were forced to move to the back of the hall to make way for white people. Simone said she refused to play until her parents were moved back to the front, and that the incident contributed to her later involvement in the civil rights movement.
Simone's mother, Mary Kate Waymon, was a strict Methodist minister and a housemaid. Simone's father, John Divine Waymon, was a handyman who at one time owned a dry cleaning business, but who also suffered bouts of ill health. Mary Kate's employer, hearing of her daughter's talent, provided funds for piano lessons. Subsequently, a local fund was set up to assist in Simone's continued education. With the assistance of this scholarship money she attended high school.
After finishing high school, she had studied for an interview with the help of a private tutor to study piano further at the Curtis Institute, but she was rejected. Simone believed that this rejection was related directly to her race. Simone then moved to New York City, where she studied at the Juilliard School of Music.
To fund her private lessons, Simone performed at the Midtown Bar & Grill on Pacific Avenue in Atlantic City, whose owner insisted that she sing as well as play the piano. In 1954 she adopted the stage name Nina Simone. "Nina" (from niña, meaning 'little girl' in Spanish) was a nickname a boyfriend had given to her, and "Simone" was taken from the French actress Simone Signoret, whom she had seen in the movie Casque d'or. Simone's mixture of jazz, blues, and classical music in her performances at the bar earned her a small, but loyal, fan base.
In 1958, she befriended and married Don Ross, a beatnik who worked as a fairground barker, but quickly regretted their marriage. After playing in small clubs, in 1958 she recorded a rendition of George Gershwin's "I Loves You Porgy" (from Porgy and Bess), which she learned from a Billie Holiday album and performed as a favor to a friend. It became her only Billboard top 40 success in the United States, and her debut album Little Girl Blue soon followed on Bethlehem Records. Simone missed out on more than $1 million in royalties (mainly because of the successful re-release of My Baby Just Cares for Me during the 1980s) and never benefited financially from the album, because she had sold her rights to it for $3,000.
After the success of Little Girl Blue, Simone signed a contract with Colpix Records, and recorded a string of studio and live albums. Colpix relinquished all creative control to her, including the choice of material that would be recorded, in exchange for her signing the contract with them. At this point, Simone only performed pop music to make money to continue her classical music studies, and was indifferent about having a recording contract. She kept this attitude toward the record industry for most of her career.
Simone married a New York police detective, Andrew Stroud, in 1961; Stroud later became her manager
In 1964, she changed record distributors, from the American Colpix to the Dutch Philips, which also meant a change in the contents of her recordings. Simone had always included songs in her repertoire that drew upon her African-American origins (such as "Brown Baby" and "Zungo" on Nina at the Village Gate in 1962). On her debut album for Philips, Nina Simone In Concert (live recording, 1964), however, Simone for the first time openly addressed the racial inequality that was prevalent in the United States with the song "Mississippi Goddam", her response to the murder of Medgar Evers and the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four black children. The song was released as a single, and it was boycotted in certain southern states. "Old Jim Crow", on the same album, addressed the Jim Crow Laws.
From then on, a civil rights message was standard in Simone's recording repertoire, becoming a part of her live performances. Simone performed and spoke at many civil rights meetings, such as at the Selma to Montgomery marches.Simone advocated violent revolution during the civil rights period, rather than Martin Luther King's non-violent approach, and she hoped that African Americans could, by armed combat, form a separate state. Nevertheless, she wrote in her autobiography that she and her family regarded all races as equal.
She covered Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit", a song about the lynching of black men in the South, on Pastel Blues (1965). She also sang the W. Cuney poem "Images" on Let It All Out (1966), about the absence of pride she saw among African-American women. Simone wrote "Four Women", a song about four different stereotypes of African-American women, and included the recording on her 1966 album Wild Is the Wind.
Simone moved from Philips to RCA Victor during 1967. She sang "Backlash Blues", written by her friend Langston Hughes on her first RCA album, Nina Simone Sings The Blues (1967). On Silk & Soul (1967), she recorded Billy Taylor's "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free" and "Turning Point". The album Nuff Said (1968) contains 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)", a song written by her bass player, Gene Taylor, directly after the news of King's death had reached them. In the summer of 1969 she performed at the Harlem Cultural Festival in Harlem's Mount Morris Park.
Together with Weldon Irvine, Simone turned the late Lorraine Hansberry's unfinished play To Be Young, Gifted, and Black into a civil rights song. Hansberry had been a personal friend whom Simone credited with cultivating her social and political consciousness. She performed the song live on the album Black Gold (1970). A studio recording was released as a single, and renditions of the song have been recorded by Aretha Franklin (on her 1972 album Young, Gifted and Black) and by Donny Hathaway.
Simone left the United States in September 1970, flying to Barbados and expecting Stroud to communicate with her when she had to perform again. However, Stroud interpreted Simone's sudden disappearance, and the fact that she had left behind her wedding ring, as an indication of a desire for a divorce. As her manager, Stroud was in charge of Simone's income.
When Simone returned to the United States she learned that a warrant had been issued for her arrest for unpaid taxes (as a protest against her country's involvement with the Vietnam War), causing her to return to Barbados again to evade the authorities and prosecution.Simone stayed in Barbados for quite some time and she had a lengthy affair with the Prime Minister, Errol Barrow.[ A close friend, singer Miriam Makeba, then persuaded her to go to Liberia. After that she lived in Switzerland and the Netherlands, before settling in France during 1992.
She recorded her last album for RCA Records, It Is Finished, during 1974. Simone did not make another record until 1978, when she was persuaded to go into the recording studio by CTI Records owner Creed Taylor. The result was the album Baltimore, which, while not a commercial success, did get good reviews and marked a quiet artistic renaissance in Simone's recording output. Her choice of material retained its eclecticism, ranging from spiritual songs to Hall & Oates' "Rich Girl". Four years later Simone recorded Fodder On My Wings on a French label. During the 1980s Simone performed regularly at Ronnie Scott's jazz club in London, where she recorded the album Live at Ronnie Scott's in 1984. Although her early on-stage style could be somewhat haughty and aloof, in later years, Simone particularly seemed to enjoy engaging her audiences sometimes by recounting humorous anecdotes related to her career and music and by soliciting requests. In 1987, the original 1958 recording of "My Baby Just Cares For Me" was used in a commercial for Chanel No. 5 perfume in the United Kingdom. This led to a re-release of the recording, which stormed to number 4 on the UK's NME singles chart, giving her a brief surge in popularity in the UK. Her autobiography, I Put a Spell on You, was published in 1992. She recorded her last album, A Single Woman, in 1993.
In 1993, Simone settled near Aix-en-Provence in Southern France. She had suffered from breast cancer for several years before she died in her sleep at her home in Carry-le-Rouet, Bouches-du-Rhône on April 21, 2003. (In addition, Simone received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder in the late 1980s. Her funeral service was attended by singers Miriam Makeba and Patti Labelle, poet Sonia Sanchez, actor Ossie Davis, and hundreds of others. Elton John sent a floral tribute with the message "You were the greatest and I love you".[ Simone's ashes were scattered in several African countries. She left behind a daughter, Lisa Celeste Stroud, an actress and singer, who took the stage name Simone, and has appeared on Broadway in Aida.
1959 Nina Simone and Her Friends (Studio) Bethlehem Records
1959 The Amazing Nina Simone (Studio) Colpix Records altrn
1959 Nina Simone at Town Hall (Live and studio) Colpix Records altrn
1960 Nina Simone at Newport (Live) Colpix Records part 1 part 2
1960 Forbidden Fruit (Studio) Colpix Records
1962 Nina at the Village Gate (Live) Colpix Records part 1 part 2
1962 Nina Simone Sings Ellington (Live) Colpix Records
1963 Nina Simone at Carnegie Hall (Live) Colpix Records
1964 Folksy Nina (Live) Colpix Records
1964 Nina Simone in Concert (Live) Philips Records altrn
1964 Broadway-Blues-Ballads (Studio) Philips Records altrn
1965 I Put a Spell on You (Studio) Philips Records
1965 Pastel Blues (Studio) Philips Records altrn
1966 Nina Simone with Strings (Studio) (strings added) Colpix
1966 Let It All Out (Live and studio) Philips
1966 Wild Is the Wind (Studio) Philips
1967 High Priestess of Soul (Studio) Philips
1967 Nina Simone Sings the Blues (Studio) RCA Records
1967 Silk & Soul (Studio) RCA Records altrn
1968 Nuff Said (Live and studio) RCA Records
1969 Nina Simone and Piano (Studio) RCA Records
1969 To Love Somebody (Studio) RCA Records
1970 Black Gold (Live) RCA Records
1971 Here Comes the Sun (Studio) RCA Records
1972 Emergency Ward (Live and Studio) RCA Records altrn
1974 It Is Finished (Live) RCA Records
1978 Baltimore (Studio) CTI Records
1982 Fodder on My Wings (Studio) Carrere
1984 Backlash (Live) StarJazz
1985 Nina's Back (Studio) VPI
1985 Live & Kickin (Live) VPI
1987 Let It Be Me (Live) Verve
1987 Live at Ronnie Scott's (Live) Hendring-Wadham
1993 A Single Woman (Studio) Elektra Records
2000 The Essential Nina Simone" (compilation, RCA, ) FLAC