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Eunice Kathleen Waymon, better known by her stage name Nina Simone (February 21, 1933 – April 21, 2003), was an Americanmarker singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and civil rights activist.Although she disliked being categorized, Simone is arguably most associated with her performance of jazz music. Simone originally aspired to become a classical pianist, but her work covers an eclectic variety of musical styles that include classical music, jazz, the blues, soul, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop music. Her vocal style is characterized by intense passion, a loose vibrato, and a slightly androgynous timbre, in part due to her unusually low vocal range which veered between the alto and tenor ranges (occasionally even reaching baritone lows). Also known as The High Priestess of Soul, she paid great attention to the musical expression of emotions. Within one album or concert she could fluctuate between exuberant happiness and tragic melancholy. These fluctuations also characterized her own personality and personal life, worsened by bipolar disorder with which she was diagnosed during the mid-1960s, but was kept secret until 2004 after her death.

Simone recorded over 40 live and studio albums, the greatest body of her work being released between 1958 (when she made her debut with Little Girl Blue) and 1974. Songs she is best known for include "My Baby Just Cares for Me", "I Put a Spell on You", "Four Women", "I Loves You Porgy", "Feeling Good", "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood", "Sinnerman", "To Be Young, Gifted and Black", "Mississippi Goddamn", "Ain't Got No, I Got Life" and "I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl".

Her music and message made a strong and lasting impact on culture, illustrated by the numerous contemporary artists who cite her as an important influence (see "Legacy and influence"). Many hip hop and other modern artists sample and remix Simone's rhythms and beats on their tracks. In particular, Talib Kweli and Mos Def routinely pay tribute to her outstanding and soulful musical style. Many of her songs are featured on motion picture soundtracks, as well as in videogames, commercials and TV series.


Youth (1933–1954)

Simone was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tryonmarker, North Carolinamarker one of eight children in a poor family. She began playing piano at the age of 3, her first song she learned was "God be With You, Till we Meet Again" and she continued to play at her local church and showed talent with this instrument. Her concert debut, a classical piano recital, was made at the age of twelve. During her 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 Caucasian people. Simone says she refused to play until her parents were moved back to the front. This incident contributed to her later involvement in the civil rights movement.
Simone's mother, Mary Kate Waymon (who lived into her late 90s) was a strict Methodist minister; her father, John Divine Waymon, was a handyman and sometime barber who suffered bouts of ill-health. Mrs. Waymon worked as a maid and her employer, hearing of Nina's talent, provided funds for piano lessons. Subsequently, a local fund was set up to assist in Eunice's continued education. At age 17, Simone moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvaniamarker.Simone encountered more racism here when applying for a scholarship at a local college. She completed a paper testing her skills and passed admirably, and there were people around who could clearly see the talent she possessed. Yet she failed to get a scholarship. When Simone confronted the examiner and asked why she was not accepted for a scholarship, the examiner told her "because you're black." Another black 'child prodigy' of the same period who apparently experienced this blatant racism of rejection was Philippa Schuyler from New York City.

This is where Simone's real passion about the Civil Rights Movement started. Whilst here she taught piano and accompanied singers to fund her own studying as a classical music pianist at New York Citymarker's Juilliard School of Musicmarker. With the help of a private tutor she studied for an interview to further study piano at the Curtis Institutemarker, but she was rejected. Simone believed that this rejection was related directly to her being black, as well as being a woman.

Early success (1954–1959)

Simone played at the Midtown Bar & Grill on Pacific Avenue in Atlantic Citymarker to fund her study. The owner said that she would have to sing as well as play the piano in order to get the job. She adopted the stage name "Nina Simone" in 1954 because she did not want her mother to know that she was playing "the devil's music". "Nina" (from "niña", meaning "little girl" in Spanish) was a nickname a boyfriend had given to her and "Simone" was after the French actress Simone Signoret, whom she had seen in the movie Casque d'or. Simone played and sang a mixture of jazz, blues and classical music at the bar, and by doing so she created a small but loyal fan base.

After playing in small clubs she recorded a rendition of George Gershwin's "I Loves You Porgy" (from Porgy and Bess) in 1958, which was 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 would never benefit financially from the album; she sold the rights for $3000, missing out on more than $1 million of royalties (mainly because of the successful re-release of "My Baby Just Cares for Me" during the 1980s).

Becoming "popular" (1959-1964)

After the success of Little Girl Blue, Simone signed a contract with the larger company Colpix Records, followed by a string of studio and live albums. Colpix relinquished all creative control, including the choice of material that would be recorded, to her in exchange for her contracting with them. Simone, who at this point only performed popular music to make money to continue her classical music studies, was bold with her demand for control over her music because she was indifferent about having a recording contract. She would keep this attitude towards the record industry for most of her career.

Civil rights era (1964–1974)

During 1964, she changed record distributors, from the American Colpix to the Dutchmarker Philips, which also meant a change in the contents of her recordings. Simone had always included songs in her repertoire that hinted about her African-American origins (such as "Brown Baby" and "Zungo" on Nina at the Village Gate during 1962). But on her debut album for Philips, Nina Simone In Concert (live recording, 1964), Simone for the first time openly addresses the racial inequality that she believed was prevalent in the United States with the song "Mississippi Goddam". It was her response to the murder of Medgar Evers and the bombing of a churchmarker in Birmingham, Alabamamarker that killed four black children. The song was released as a single, being boycotted in certain southern states. With "Old Jim Crow" on the same album she reacts to the Jim Crow Laws.

From then onwards, a civil rights message was standard in Simone's recording repertoire, where it had already become a part of her live performances. Simone performed and spoke at many civil rights meetings, such as at the Selma to Montgomery marches. She covered Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" (on Pastel Blues (1965)), a song about the lynching of black men in the South, and sang the W. Cuney poem "Images" on Let It All Out (1966), about the absence of pride in the African-American woman. Simone wrote Four Women, a song about four different stereotypes of African-American women.. and sings it on Wild Is the Wind (1966).

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 Fairmarker, 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 directly after the news of King's death had reached them.

Together with Weldon Irvine, Simone turned the late Lorraine Hansberry's unfinished play "To Be Young, Gifted and Black" into a civil rights song. She performed it live on the album Black Gold (1970). A studio recording was released as a single, and the song has been covered by Aretha Franklin (on 1972s Young, Gifted and Black) and Donny Hathaway.

Later life (1974–2003)

Simone left the United States during September 1970. She flew to Barbadosmarker, expecting her husband and manager, Andrew 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 a cue for a divorce. As her manager, Stroud was also in charge of Simone's income. This meant that after their separation Simone did not have any knowledge about how her business was managed and what she was actually worth. Upon returning to the United States, she also learned that she was wanted for unpaid taxes, causing her to go back to Barbados again to evade the authorities and prosecution. Simone stayed in Barbados for quite some time, and had a lengthy affair with the Prime Minister, Errol Barrow. A close friend, singer Miriam Makeba, persuaded her to go to Liberiamarker. After that she lived in Switzerlandmarker and the Netherlandsmarker, before settling in France during 1992.

She recorded her last album for RCA Records, It Is Finished, during 1974. It was not until 1978 that Simone was persuaded by CTI Records owner Creed Taylor to record another album, Baltimore. While not a commercial success, the album 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 Londonmarker, where the album Live at Ronnie Scott's was recorded during 1984. Though her on-stage style could be somewhat haughty and aloof, in later years, Simone particularly seemed to enjoy engaging her audiences by recounting sometimes humorous anecdotes related to her career and music and soliciting requests. In 1987, the original 1958 recording of My Baby Just Cares For Me was used in an advert for Chanel No. 5 perfume in the UK. This led to a re-release which stormed to number 5 in the UK singles chart giving her a brief surge in popularity in the UK. Her autobiography, I Put a Spell on You, was published during 1992 and she recorded her last album, A Single Woman, in 1993.

During 1993 Simone settled near Aix-en-Provencemarker in Southern France. She had been ill with breast cancer for several years before she died in her sleep at her home in Carry-le-Rouetmarker, Bouches-du-Rhônemarker on April 21, 2003. 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 "We were the greatest and I love you". Simone's ashes were scattered in several African countries. She left behind a daughter, Lisa Celeste, now an actress/singer who took on the stage name Simone who has appeared on Broadwaymarker in Aida.

Musical style

Simone standards

Throughout her career, Simone gathered a collection of songs that would become standards in her repertoire (apart from the civil rights songs) and for which she is still remembered, even though most of these songs didn't do well on the charts at the time. These songs were self-written tunes, cover versions (usually with a new arrangement by Simone), or songs written especially for Simone. Her first hit song in America was a cover of George Gershwin's "I Loves You Porgy" (1958). It peaked at number 18 in the pop singles chart and number 2 on the black singles chart. During that same period Simone recorded "My Baby Just Cares for Me", which would become her biggest success years later in 1987, when it was featured in a Chanel no. 5 perfume commercial. A music video was then created by Aardman Studios.!!DON'T put detailed cover/sample/soundtrack use of songs here, only the very basics. Put that sort of information on the ARTICLE ABOUT THE SONG OR ALBUM!!Well known songs from her Philips albums include "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" on Broadway-Blues-Ballads (1964), "I Put a Spell on You", "Ne Me Quitte Pas" (a Jacques Brel cover) and "Feeling Good" on I Put A Spell On You (1965), "Lilac Wine" and "Wild Is the Wind" on Wild is the Wind (1966).Especially the songs "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood", "Feeling Good" and "Sinnerman" (Pastel Blues, 1965) have great popularity today in terms of cover versions (most notably The Animals's version of the former song), sample usage and its use on various movie-, TV-series- and videogame soundtracks. "Sinnerman" in particular has been featured on movies like The Thomas Crown Affair, Miami Vice and Inland Empire, and sampled by artists like Talib Kweli and Timbaland. The song "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" was sampled by Devo Springsteen on "Misunderstood" from Common's 2007 album "Finding Forever, and by little-known producers Rodnae and Mousa for the song "Don't Get It" on Lil Wayne's 2008 album "Tha Carter III". The song "See-Line Woman" was sampled by Kanye West for "Bad News" on his '808's and Heartbreaks' album

Simone's years at RCA-Victor spawned a number of singles and album songs that were popular, particularly in Europe. In 1968 it was "Ain't Got No, I Got Life", a medley from the musical Hair from the album Nuff Said (1968) that became a surprise hit for Simone, reaching number 2 on the UK pop charts and introducing her to a younger audience. In 2006, it returned to the UK Top 30 in a remixed version by Groovefinder. The following single, the Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody" also reached the UK top 10 in 1969. "House of the Rising Sun" featured on Nina Simone Sings The Blues in 1967, but Simone had recorded the song earlier in 1961 (featuring on Nina At The Village Gate, 1962), predating versions by Dave Van Ronk and Bob Dylan. It was later picked up by The Animals and became their signature hit.

Performing style

Simone's regal bearing and commanding stage presence earned her the title "High Priestess of Soul". Her live performances were regarded not as mere concerts, but as happenings. In a single concert she could be a singer, pianist, dancer, actress, or activist, all simultaneously.On stage, Simone moved from gospel to blues, jazz and folk, to numbers infused with European classical styling, and counterpoint fugues. She incorporated monologues and dialogues with the audience into the program, and often used silence as a musical element. Simone compared it to "mass hypnosis. I use it all the time"Throughout most of her live and recording career she was accompanied by percussionist Leopoldo Flemming and guitarist and musical director Al Schackman.

Simone had a reputation in the music industry for being volatile and sometimes difficult to deal with, a characterization with which she strenuously took issue. In 1995, she shot and wounded her neighbor's son with a pneumatic pistol after his laughter disturbed her concentration. She also fired a gun at a record company executive whom she accused of stealing royalties. It is now recognized that this "difficulty" was the result of bipolar disorder. Simone reluctantly took medication for her condition from the mid-1960s on. All this was only known to a small group of intimates, and kept out of public view for many years, until the biography Break Down And Let It All Out written by Sylvia Hampton and David Nathan revealed this secret in 2004.

Personal life

Views on race

Simone advocated violent revolution during the civil rights period as opposed to Martin Luther King's non-violent approach, and hoped that the African Americans could, by so fighting, obtain a separate state. Simone was not, however, a racist, and stated, in her autobiography, that her family and indeed herself regarded all races equal.

Legacy and influence


Nina Simone is often cited by artists from diverse musical fields as a source of inspiration. Musicians who have cited her as important for their own musical upbringing are among othersElkie Brooks, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Elizabeth Fraser, Cat Stevens, Peter Gabriel, Mary J. Blige, Michael Gira, Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys, Amanda Palmer and Jeff Buckley.

John Lennon cited Simone's version of "I Put a Spell on You" as a source of inspiration for the Beatles song "Michelle".Musicians who have covered her work (or her specific renditions of songs) include J.Viewz, Carola, Aretha Franklin, Marilyn Manson, Donny Hathaway, David Bowie, Elkie Brooks, Roberta Flack, Jeff Buckley, The Animals, Muse, Cat Power, Katie Melua, Timbaland, Feist, Shara Worden, and Michael Bublé. Simone's music has featured in soundtracks of various motion pictures and video games, including but not limited to the The Big Lebowski (1998), Point of No Return (AKA The Assassin, 1993) Notting Hill (1999), The Thomas Crown Affair (1999), The Dancer Upstairs (2002), Before Sunset (2004), Cellular (2004), Inland Empire (2006), Sex and the City (2008), Revolutionary Road (2008), and Watchmen (2009). Her music is frequently used in remixes, commercials and TV series.


The documentary Nina Simone: La Legende (The Legend) was made in the '90s by French filmmakers.It was based on her autobiography I Put A Spell On You and features live footage from different periods of her career, interviews with friends and family, various interviews with Simone herself while she was living in the Netherlandsmarker, and on a trip to her birthplace. A significant amount of footage from The Legend was taken from an earlier 26-minute biographical documentary by Peter Rodis, released in 1969 and titled simply Nina.

Plans for a Nina Simone biographical film were released at the end of 2005. The movie will be based on Simone's autobiography I Put A Spell On You (1992) and will also focus on her relationship in later life with her assistant, Clifton Henderson, who died in 2006. TV writer Cynthia Mort (Will & Grace, Roseanne) is working on the script, and singer Mary J. Blige will play the lead role. The movie is scheduled for 2012.


On Human Kindness Day 1974 in Washington DCmarker more than 10,000 people paid tribute to Simone.Simone received two honorary degrees in music and humanities from the University of Massachusetts and Malcolm X Collegemarker. She preferred to be called "Dr. Nina Simone" after these honors were bestowed upon her. Only two days before her death, Simone was awarded an honorary diploma by the Curtis Institutemarker, the school that had turned her down at the start of her career.


Year Album Type Label Billboard
1958 Little Girl Blue Studio Bethlehem Records
1959 Nina Simone and Her Friends Studio
The Amazing Nina Simone Studio Colpix Records
Nina Simone at Town Hall Live and studio
1960 Nina Simone at Newport Live 23 (pop)
Forbidden Fruit Studio
1962 Nina at the Village Gate Live
Nina Simone Sings Ellington Live
1963 Nina's Choice Compilation
Nina Simone at Carnegie Hall Live
1964 Folksy Nina Live
Nina Simone in Concert Live Philips Records 102 (pop)
Broadway-Blues-Ballads Studio
1965 I Put a Spell on You Studio 99 (pop)
Pastel Blues Studio 8 (black)
1966 Nina Simone with Strings Studio (strings added) Colpix
Let It All Out Live and studio Philips 19 (black)
Wild Is the Wind Studio 12 (black)
1967 High Priestess of Soul Studio 29 (black)
Nina Simone Sings the Blues Studio RCA Records 29 (black)
Silk & Soul Studio 24 (black)
1968 Nuff Said Live and studio 44 (black)
1969 Nina Simone and Piano Studio
To Love Somebody Studio
1970 Black Gold Live 29 (black)
1971 Here Comes the Sun Studio 190 (pop)
1972 Emergency Ward Live and Studio
1974 It Is Finished Live
1978 Baltimore Studio CTI Records 12 (jazz)
1980 The Rising Sun Collection ? Enja
1982 Fodder on My Wings Studio Carrere
1984 Backlash Live StarJazz
1985 Nina's Back Studio VPI
1985 Live & Kickin Live
1987 Let It Be Me ? Verve
1987 Live at Ronnie Scott's Live Hendring-Wadham
1993 A Single Woman Studio Elektra Records 3 (top jazz)
1969 A Very Rare Evening Live PM Records (Japan)
1975 The Great Show Live In Paris Live RCA?
1997 Released Compilation RCA Victor Europe
2003 Gold Studio Remastered Universal/UCJ
Anthology Compilation RCA/BMG Heritage
2004 Nina Simone's Finest Hour Compilation Verve/Universal
2005 The Soul of Nina Simone ? RCA DualDisc
2006 The Very Best of Nina Simone Compilation Sony BMG
Remixed and Reimagined Remix Legacy/SBMG 5 (contemp.jazz)
Songs to Sing: the Best of Nina Simone Compilation/Live Compilation Deluxe
Forever Young, Gifted & Black: Songs of Freedom and Spirit Remix RCA
2008 To Be Free: The Nina Simone Story Compilation Sony Legacy
2009 The Definitive Rarities Collection - 50 Classic Cuts Compilation Artwork Media


  1. Peter Rodis documentary, "Nina"
  2. Untitled Nina Simone Project at

Further reading

External links

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