Simone, Nina (Waymon, Eunice Kathleen)

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Simone, Nina (Waymon, Eunice Kathleen)

February 21, 1933
April 21, 2003

Born in Tryon, North Carolina, singer Nina Simone was encouraged to study piano and organ starting at age three by her mother, an ordained black Methodist minister. She was soon able to play hymns on the organ by ear, and at age six she became the regular pianist at her family's church. She studied privately, as well as at Asheville (N.C.) High School, to become a classical pianist. She also studied at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia (19501953) and the Juilliard School in New York (19541956). Simone's career as a vocalist, which spanned nearly four decades and more than forty albums, came almost by accident: During a 1954 nightclub engagement in Atlantic City, New Jersey, she was informed that in addition to playing piano she would have to sing. She adopted the stage name Nina Simone for this occasion, which marked the beginning of her career as a jazz singer.

From the very start, Simone chafed under the restrictions of the label "jazz singer," and indeed, her mature style integrated classical piano techniques with a repertory drawn from sources as varied as the blues and folk music, as in Jazz as Played (1958). Early in her career she also began addressing racial problems in the United States. In 1963, angered by the death of Medgar Evers and the bombing of an African-American church in Birmingham, Alabama, she composed her first civil rights anthem, "Mississippi Goddam," and during the next decade much of her work was explicitly dedicated to the civil rights movement, sung in her forceful and clear alto voice. In 1963 she composed "Four Women" with Langston Hughes. Her other popular songs from this time include "Young, Gifted, and Black," "Old Jim Crow," and "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." In the 1970s Simone continued to perform internationally and recorded the album Baltimore in 1978. Starting in the late 1970s she divided her time between Los Angeles and Switzerland. In more recent years she lived in Paris, but she continued to appear regularly in New York. In 1987 she released Let It Be Me. Her autobiography, I Put a Spell on You, was published in 1991. In 2003 Nina Simone died in France after a long illness.

See also Jazz Singers


Grieske, Tony. "Jazz Legend, Civil Rights Voice Nina Simone Dies." Hollywood Reporter, April 22, 2003, p. 6.

Powell, Allison, with Nina Simone. "The American Soul of Nina Simone." Interview 27, no. 1 (January 1997): 76-80.

Simone, Nina. I Put a Spell on You. New York: Pantheon Books, 1991.

Sischy, Ingrid, with Elton John. "Nina Simone: Remembering a Fiery Trailblazer of Song and Freedom." Interview 33, no. 7 (August 2003): 108.

rosita m. sands (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005