American singer-songwriter Nina Simone was one of the most recognized jazz, blues and soul pianists of all time. Throughout his career he recorded more than 40 albums, received 15 Grammy Award nominations and in 2018 it was awarded a place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
It was also aactivist for the rights of people of African descent, fight that crossed his career and his art until the day of his death. His life and work were recently immortalized with the Netflix documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015).
Eunice Kathleen Waymon, her real name, was born on February 21, 1933 in Tryon, a small town in North Carolina, she was the sixth of eight children in a family that lived the ravages of the Great Depression.
From his early years it was clear that it was a person with unusual musical talent. At home her father played the piano, guitar and harmonica, and was also the director of the church choir, the same one that Eunice was part of and when she was only three years old they called her. Prodigy girl.
At six she became the principal pianist in her congregation and began taking piano lessons with Mrs. Massinovitch, who became her “white mother.”, as she called her. At the age of eight he gave his first concert in public.
“Everything that happened to me when I was a child had to do with music. It was part of everyday life, something as automatic as breathing,” says Nina in her memoir, I Put a Spell on You.
A life crossed by racism
During his childhood in Tryon, Eunice never experienced discrimination and according to his own testimony, skin color was never discussed at home, so it was not a topic that he would have thought about before adolescence. At 19, she decided to enter the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, but was rejected for her physical features, despite being an extraordinary candidate.
At that time he got a job in a bar where he sang and played the piano. It was there that he began mixing classical music with new sounds and finding his own style. Also there he adopted his famous stage name to prevent his mother from discovering what his job was.
“I had once had a boyfriend of Hispanic origin, Chico, who gave me the nickname of Niña, in Spanish. Boy called me that all the time and I loved how he sounded. And I also liked Simone since I had seen Simone Signoret in French films. So there she was, Nina Simone, “he summarizes in his autobiography.
His first big hit was I Love You Porgy in 1954 and over the years, Simone earned the nickname of High Priestess of Soul thanks to his ability to improvise and compose songs live. With his more than four dozen albums, he conquered the entire United States and the world.
His constant search for freedom marked his music and his career. During the 1960s she joined the civil rights movement and in 1969 she left her country after the assassination of Martin Luther King, fed up with the racial segregation against African Americans.
In April 2003 the Curtis Institute, which rejected her during her youth, He was awarded an honorary degree in recognition of his important career. Two days later, on April 21, she died in France after losing the battle against breast cancer.