This is part of The Shadow League’s Black History Month In Focus series celebrating Black excellence in sports and culture.
A timeless voice, Nina Simone was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon on February 21, 1933 in Tryon, North Carolina. Her singing style was so soulful and versatile that she was able to successfully pour her soul into classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel and pop music. Simone received tutelage at the esteemed Julliard School of Music in New York City thanks to donations from a few supporters in her hometown.
She would apply for a scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, but was denied despite a very good audition and was convinced her rejection was racially motivated. She changed her name when she first began performing, playing piano at nightclubs in Atlantic City.
As the sixth daughter of a preacher, she knew it would be a matter of family controversy had she been discovered performing worldly music. However, she was eventually asked to sing while playing the piano by the club owners. Thus, her illustrious career as a singer was born.
With dozens of live, compilation, studio albums and singles to her name, Simone has been named as a key inspiration from music artists across the creative and ethnic spectrum. Everyone from Elton John, Madonna and Janis Joplin, to Lauryn Hill, Mary J. Blige and Lena Horne, sighted Simone as integral to their music styles and societal awareness.
She was a fervent and passionate proponent of civil and human rights. Black struggle was apparent in many of her recordings, including “Mississippi Goddamn” and “Old Jim Crow.” Additionally, she worked with famed writer Langston Hughes on “Backlash Blues”, and turned friend Lorraine Hansberry’s unfinished play into the song ”Young, Gifted and Black.”
Simone would perform and speak at civil rights gatherings such as the Montgomery March. However, unlike Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she was a proponent of Blacks forging an independent state via armed revolt. Her personal philosophy was more in line with Malcolm X and other like-minded individuals. But her philosophy was even more radical in many regards.
In 1993, Nina would leave the United States to live in France. She died in 2003 after several years of suffering from breast cancer at 70 years old.
Her volatile temper was infamous, as many who worked with her would later recall. Simone was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1980, was known to bust her gun in the direction of anyone she felt was trying to get over on her: record execs and shoe store clerks in particular.
On this day she was born, and we remember her in all her passion, fire, fury and soulfulness.
Happy Birthday Nina Simone.