21 Feb Happy Birthday Blog: Nina Simone
Nina Simone (born Eunice Kathleen Waymon)
Born: February 21, 1933
Tryon, North Carolina, USA
Known For: Famed Jazz, Blues, Pop Singer and Civil Rights Activist
“All I want is equality, for my sister, my brother, my people, me” is the essential truth of Nina Simone’s gripping Civil Rights-inspired song “Mississippi Goddamn.” Simone became a leading voice in the Civil Rights movement through her music and relationships with other prominent writers and critical thinkers Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes, and James Baldwin. Growing up in North Carolina, Simone’s first passion was for classic piano music. She originally aspired to be a concert pianist, and was known for her ability to learn any musical piece by ear.
Classically trained, she hoped to attend the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia but was denied admission. Though Simone later maintained that she was denied on the basis of race, she was not immediately drawn to singing and writing about civil rights issues. She began to work in Atlantic City, gaining attention for her skill at the piano, her powerful singing voice, and her ability to transcend jazz, blues, R&B, pop, and soul music. She changed her name to Nina Simone early in her career to hide from her conservative religious family members, who would not support her singing the “devil’s music.”
Simone released 40 albums from 1958 to 1974. Though she had included black songs in her singing repertoire, she did not actively begin to address the ongoing civil rights issues until 1964. Horrified by the assassination of Civil Rights leader Medger Evers in June 1963 and the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham later that year, Simone wrote and released her response in the form of the song “Mississippi Goddamn” in 1964.
This led to Simone speaking and singing at Civil Rights marches throughout the American south. Though she later claimed that writing “Mississippi Goddamn” damaged her career because her music was boycotted, she remains one of the most influential Civil Rights era artists and is certainly one of the most important musical talents of the 20th century.
In Simone’s later life, she moved to parts of Europe (largely to avoid a warrant for unpaid US taxes – her protest to the US involvement in the Vietnam War). And she continued to perform and write, producing her finale album in 1993. She died in the south of France in 2003, where she settled a decade before.
You can learn more about Nina here.
To the life, the legend that is Nina Simone, we wish a very happy birthday!