Updated: Oct 11, 2021
Nina Simone Speaks In This One Of A Kind Interview
What the youth of Black America need be aware of, and discover their culture of music, fashion, and human rights. Eunice Kathleen Waymon, known professionally as Nina Simone, was an American singer, songwriter, musical arranger, and civil rights activist. Her music spanned a broad range of styles, including classical, jazz, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop. Nina referred to her music as Black Classical Music.
The sixth of eight children born to a poor family in Tryon, North Carolina, Simone initially aspired to be a concert pianist.With the help of a few supporters in her hometown, she enrolled in the Juilliard School of Music in New York City. She then applied for a scholarship to study at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where she was denied admission despite a well-received audition, which she attributed to racism. In 2003, just days before her death, the Institute awarded her an honorary degree.
To make a living, Simone started playing piano at a nightclub in Atlantic City. She changed her name to "Nina Simone" to disguise herself from family members, having chosen to play "the devil's music"or so-called "cocktail piano". She was told in the nightclub that she would have to sing to her own accompaniment, which effectively launched her career as a jazz vocalist. She went on to record more than 40 albums between 1958 and 1974, making her debut with Little Girl Blue. She had a hit single in the United States in 1958 with "I Loves You, Porgy". Her musical style fused gospel and pop with classical music, in particular Johann Sebastian Bach, and accompanied expressive, jazz-like singing in her contralto voice.
After the success of Little Girl Blue, Simone signed a contract with Colpix Recordsand recorded a multitude 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. After the release of her live album Nina Simone at Town Hall, Simone became a favorite performer in Greenwich Village.By this time, Simone performed pop music only 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 December 1961. In a few years he became her manager and the father of her daughter Lisa, but later he abused Simone psychologically and physically.
1964–1974: Civil Rights era
In 1964, Simone changed record distributors from Colpix, an American company, to the Dutch Philips Records, which meant a change in the content of her recordings. She had always included songs in her repertoire that drew on her African-American heritage, such as "Brown Baby" by Oscar Brown and "Zungo" by Michael Olatunji on her album Nina at the Village Gate in 1962. On her debut album for Philips, Nina Simone in Concert (1964), for the first time she addressed racial inequality in the United States in the song "Mississippi Goddam". This was her response to the June 12, 1963, murder of Medgar Evers and the September 15, 1963, bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, that killed four young black girls and partly blinded a fifth. She said that the song was "like throwing ten bullets back at them", becoming one of many other protest songs written by Simone. The song was released as a single, and it was boycotted in some[vague] southern states. Promotional copies were smashed by a Carolina radio station and returned to Philips. She later recalled how "Mississippi Goddam" was her "first civil rights song" and that the song came to her "in a rush of fury, hatred and determination". The song challenged the belief that race relations could change gradually and called for more immediate developments: "me and my people are just about due". It was a key moment in her path to Civil Rights activism. "Old Jim Crow", on the same album, addressed the Jim Crow laws. After "Mississippi Goddam", a civil rights message was the norm in Simone's recordings and became part of her concerts. As her political activism rose, the rate of release of her music slowed.