Black History Highlight
February 21, 1933- April 21, 2003
Courtesy of BIOGRAPHY.COM
Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon, on February 21, 1933, in Tryon, North Carolina, Nina Simone took to music at an early age, learning to play piano at the age of 4 and singing in her church’s choir. The sixth of seven children, Simone grew up poor. Her music teacher helped establish a special fund to pay for Simone’s education and, after finishing high school, Simone won a scholarship to New York City’s famed Juilliard School of Music to train as a classical pianist.
Simone taught piano and worked as a accompanist for other performers while at Juilliard, but she eventually had to leave school after she ran out of funds. Moving to Philadelphia, Simone lived with her family there in order to save money and go to a more affordable music program. Her career took an unexpected turn, however, when she was rejected from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia; she later claimed the school denied her admittance because she was African-American. Turning away from classical music, she started playing American standards, jazz and blues in clubs in the 1950s.
Before long, she also started singing along with her music at the behest of one bar owner. She took the stage name Nina Simone—”Nina” came from a nickname meaning “little one” and “Simone” after the actress Simone Signoret. In the ‘60s, she became identified as the voice of the civil rights and wrote songs about the movement. She won over such fans as Harlem Renaissance writers Langston Hughes, Lorraine Hansberry, and James Baldwin.
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.
Check Out Nina Simone Interviews & Performances Below
In the interview below, Nina Simone discusses the first time she realized that there was racism in the US & how she didn’t let that stop her from succeeding. (move to time marker 11:30-13:03)