Birth Name Eunice Kathleen Waymon
Music Genre Blues, Rhythm’n’blues, Soul, Gospel, Crooner, Pop Jazz, Jazz Blues, Vocal Jazz
Active Years Since 1933
Eunice Kathleen Waymon is ten years old when she gives her first piano concert in the small town of Tryon, North Carolina, where she was born in 1933.
Rightly justifiably proud, his working parents settled in the front row to listen to their daughter (they have seven other children). But they are moved to the bottom, to make room for whites.
This event is founder, the little Eunice conceives a dull rage which will make it rise to the crenel during the fight for the civil rights, and which will leave it revolted forever. That day, she refuses to play until we have reinstated her parents in their proper place, and never again, she will not let herself be, even if life will not always be sweet.
At age eight, she discovers the piano at church and then takes paid lessons from her mother’s employer as a housekeeper, who has heard of her gift. At age 17, she moved to Philadelphia where she taught piano lessons and accompanied singers, to finance her studies as a classical musician at the prestigious Juilliard School Of Music in New York. But when you are Black, she realizes it, the task is even more difficult.
It is in Atlantic City, where she auditioned to sing in a restaurant, that the boss strongly suggests, if she wants the place, to sing at the same time as she plays. We are in 1954 and, so that her mother, fervent Methodist, ignores that she plays the “music of the devil”, she chooses a pseudonym: Nina, which means little girl in Spanish, and Simone in tribute to the actress French Gold Helmet. In this bar, she plays jazz, blues, a little classical, and gradually forges a network of spectators, who follow from club to club. It was in 1958 that she recorded her first album, a cover of “Porgy & Bess”, whose good reception allowed her to sign with the small label Bethlehem Records.
She recorded her first album, Little Girl Blue, with Jimmy Bond on bass and Tootie Heath on drums. Totally inexperienced, she gives up all rights to his label in exchange for $ 3,000. The future rights of the only “My Baby Just Cares For Me” would have earned him a million, after Chanel chose this song to illustrate a spot in the 80s, bringing it up to date …
She then signs with Colpix Records, a bigger label, which gives her full freedom in the selection and production of her songs. She released between 1959 and 1964 nine albums at Colpix, including six live and a compilation: at that time, Nina Simone continues and studies and dreams of classical instrument, and she sings pop to make a living. These albums are traditional anthologies, (“House of the Rising Sun” which she takes again two years before The Animals and Bob Dylan), of standards that she redraws of her touch, with some personal compositions. She also devotes an entire album to her versions of Duke Ellington’s tracks.
But in 1964, in full civil rights movement, his activism is reactivated and reinforced by the political situation and his associates. She then signs with Philips, and on her first album for the then Dutch brand, Nina Simone In Concert, she ends with a protest song from her hand, “Mississipi Goddam”, a tribute to the murdered civil rights activist Medgar Evers and a denunciation churches (and children) burned by members of the Ku Klux Klan, Birmingham, Alabama.
Released singles, the song will be boycotted in many southern US states. Having become a rare diva, both politically and artistically, by her talent and attitude, Nina Simone is pursuing a career marked by her commitments, with six albums at Philips. She sings in meetings, puts together feminist songs, takes up the mythical “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday, and dedicates her art to the defense of the rights of her people. She writes, with the African-American poet Langston Hughes (a friend), “Backlash Blues”, for her first album at RCA, in 1967, Nina Simone Sings The Blues. At RCA, there are eight albums (including two live) that she will produce, until 1974, with many key songs: “Young Gifted & Black”, on the 1970 album Black Gold (which will be taken over by Donny Hathaway and by Aretha Franklin), and this perpetual gravity that makes Nina Simone not an entertainer but a true artist with unparalleled depth.
In the early 1970s, Nina Simone’s life became complicated. She leaves her country to settle in Barbados for a while. But her husband-manager then takes this for a way of divorce! So she has no idea how her business is (or is not) managed, and when she comes back In the United States, she realizes that she is facing prosecution for unpaid taxes. She then fled to Barbados, where she resided for a few years, having a love affair with Prime Minister Erroll Barrow. Then, at the invitation of her friend Miriam Makeba, she moved to Liberia, then she will live in Switzerland, Holland before settling in southern France in 1992, in Carry-Le-Rouet, in the Bouches-du-Rhone. After her last album for RCA, It’s Finished, in 1974, she waits four years before being convinced to record again, for a small jazz label. Then, she will continue, year in year out, to release records, including several live, since she still plays on stage for a public fascinated by his aura of diva. Her latest studio album, A Single Woman, at Elektra, dates from 1993. If Nina Simone keeps the image of a lone artist, flayed alive, its impact has been phenomenal over several generations. For proof, we will quote the samples chosen in recent years by Timbaland, Common, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Talib Kweli or will.i.am (Black Eyed Peas) in his repertoire, to build their songs. She was a major performer, appropriating standards with such strength that she made them his own, even in French, his version of “Do not leave me” Jacques Brel is unavoidable. As a high priestess of soul, she has touched all genres, folk, jazz, blues, classical, with equal happiness. It has dramatically influenced many of today’s artists, from Mary J. Blige (who is expected to perform in a biopic planned for 2009) to Alicia Keys or Lauryn Hill, but also had a very strong impact on John Lennon or Jeff Buckley. On stage, she was an outstanding performer, throwing herself into fiery monologues. As for her songs, they appear in the credits of dozens of films. After this sometimes chaotic life (suffering from a mental disorder, she could become aggressive and shot once on the son of a neighbor who disturbed his concentration, another once upon a record company employee that she suspected of impropriety on her royalties), that devouring rage against injustice (she was partisan of a hard revolution, and opposed to the pacifism of Martin Luther King, to whom she returned yet often tribute), Nina Simone will have marked the twentieth century, and inscribed his name to the pantheon of major artists. She died on April 21, 2003, in her village of Carry-le-Rouet, near Aix-en-Provence, breast cancer at the age of 70 years. His ashes will be scattered in various African countries.
5 thoughts on “Nina Simone: 1- Feeling Good / 2 – Ain’t Got No, I Got Life / 3 – Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood / Etta James: 1- At Last / 2- I Just Want To Make Love To You”
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