- NAME: Nina Simone
- OCCUPATION: Civil Rights Activist, Pianist, Singer, Journalist
- BIRTH DATE: February 21, 1933
- DEATH DATE: April 21, 2003
- EDUCATION: The Juilliard School
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Tryon, North Carolina
- PLACE OF DEATH: Carry-le-Rouet, France
- Full Name: Eunice Kathleen Waymon
- AKA: Nina Simone
- AKA: Eunice Waymon
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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. She won over such fans as Harlem Renaissance writers Langston Hughes, Lorraine Hansberry, and James Baldwin.
Simone began recording her music in the late 1950s under the Bethlehem label, releasing her first full album in 1958, which featured "Plain Gold Ring" and "Little Girl Blue." It also included her one and only top 40 pop hit with her version of "I Loves You Porgy" from the George Gershwin musical Porgy and Bess.
In many ways, Simone's music defied standard definitions. Her classical training showed through, no matter what genre of song she played, and she drew from many sources including gospel, pop and folk. She was often called the "High Priestess of Soul," but she hated that nickname. She didn't like the label of "jazz singer", either. "If I had to be called something, it should have been a folk singer because there was more folk and blues than jazz in my playing," she later wrote.
By the mid-1960s, Simone became known as the voice of the civil rights movement. She wrote "Mississippi Goddam" in response to the 1963 assassination of Medgar Evers and the Birmingham church bombing that killed four young African-American girls. After the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, Simone penned "Why (The King of Love Is Dead)." She also wrote "Young, Gifted and Black," borrowing the title of a play by Hansberry, which became a popular anthem at the time.
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Many African-Americans left their country to escape the confines of racism, segregation and McCarthyism in the United States. As a result, an entirely new African-American subculture sprouted up in Europe, Africa and other countries abroad. A street in Paris is named after Josephine Baker, who found acceptance and fame in France that she couldn't achieve in the still-segregated United States. Marcus Garvey was a leader of the Back-to-Africa movement. And singer Nina Simone lived in several different countries, including Liberia, Switzerland, England and Barbados before eventually settling down in the South of France. Find out more about these African-American expats, and the new lives they made for themselves abroad, on Biography.com.
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