By: Evette Champion
February 21, 1933, Eunice Kathleen Waymon was born in Tryon, North Carolina. At the tender age of four, she learned how to play the piano and began singing in with her church’s choir. Being the sixth of seven children, she grew up poor that her music teacher helped to create a special fund to pay for her education. Simone earned a scholarship to the famed Juilliard School of Music in New York City where she would become a classically trained pianist.
Eunice took on the name, Nina Simone, when she auditioned to sing at the Midtown Bar & Grill on Pacific Avenue in Atlantic City. News quickly spread about her talent as she marveled patrons with her masterful blend of classics like Gershwin, Cole Porter, and others and transformed the music that was popular at the time into a cool blend of jazz, blues, and classical music.
By the time Simone was 24, the record industry started taking notice of her talent. When she submitted a demo of music she recorded during a performance in the small town of New Hope, Pennsylvania, she was signed by King Records’ owner, Syd Nathan. She was signed to his Jazz imprint, Bethlehem Records.
By the time Nina Simone was a household name, she had left Bethlehem Records and was signed by Colpix Records, a division of Columbia pictures. You could say that it was with Colpix where she came into her own and truly thrived as an artist.
What really stood out about Nina was that she used her music to be the voice of the civil rights movement. She wrote Mississippi Goddam as a response to the murder of Medgar Evers in 1963 and the Birmingham church bombings that killed four African American Girls. A few years later when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, she wrote “Why (The King of Love is Dead),” as well as “Young, Gifted, and Black.”
By the end of the 60s, Simone grew tired of the political strife in America and the music scene so she traveled—staying in Liberia, Switzerland, England and Barbados. She ultimately settled down in the South of France. Where she would later die in her home in Carry-le-Rouet, in April 21, 2003.
Nina Simone published an autobiography, I Put a Spell On You in 1992 and she would also release another recording, A Single Woman a year later. Whenever she felt like touring, you could always count on throngs of fans to fill any venue.
When Nina eulogized a fallen King, we mourned. When she sang of racial injustice in Mississippi, we grew angry. When she tickled the ivories with”Sinner Man”, we all wanted to repent. There is a power in Nina’s voice and music that cannot be replicated.
Here’s Nina Simone performing “Mississippi Goddamn”