Leading Lady : Nina Simone

“I choose to reflect the times and the situations in which I find myself. That, to me, is my duty. And at this crucial time in our lives, when everything is so desperate, when every day is a matter of survival, I don’t think you can help but be involved.”

Eunice Waymon was discovered at a church piano recital at age seven. Her aptitude for music was so apparent that two women in the audience offered to arrange for her to take classical piano lessons. A fund was established by the community to further her education, eventually sending her to Juilliard. Eunice applied to the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in pursuit of her dream: to become the first black classical pianist.

Eunice wasn't accepted to the Curtis Institute of Music and began playing piano at bars and supper parties in Atlantic City out of necessity. She used the name Nina Simone so that her parents wouldn't learn of her shows or the popular music she was playing. Before long, Nina Simone was recording music, performing at jazz festivals, and had found herself with an unexpected career in show business.

In 1963, Nina had a concert at Carnegie Hall, though not playing the classical music that would have fulfilled her dream. That same year, the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing occurred, causing a turning point in the civil rights movement and in Simone's career. She wrote a protest song called "Mississippi Goddam" after the tragedy, and from that point forward she used music as a political weapon.

Nina Simone was a revolutionary. Her exceptional skill, the depth of her voice, and the innovative way she introduced classical aspects into other genres transformed music. Her songs are regarded as some of the most important of the civil rights movement. But beyond music or civil rights, Nina encouraged others to explore their culture and to love and celebrate the beauty of being black. - Kelly Longhurst


Photo Credit : David Hollander