February 21st, 2005


Composer, singer, and pianist Nina Simone, b. Eunice Waymon in Tryon, N.C., Feb. 21, 1933, began piano lessons at age 4. "My mother wouldn't allow worldly music," she once recalled, "but I played boogie-woogie to my father." She received classical training at the Curtis Institute and the Juilliard School, then supported herself by giving piano lessons and performing in Manhattan nightclubs, changing her name to sidestep her mother's disapproval. Her first single, "I Loves You, Porgy," was a million-seller, and she was nicknamed the "High Priestess of Soul." In the 1960s, Simone composed "Mississippi Goddam," "Young, Gifted and Black," and other pieces that tapped into the racial upheavals of the decade, and began recording a string of albums that now numbers about five dozen. With her idiosyncratic blend of classical, blues, gospel, and jazz streams, she became a mainstay of New York's Village Gate and built a devoted following. In 1969, fed up with racism, commercialism, and the music industry, she exiled herself to Barbados, then Liberia. A comeback in the late 1970s was unsuccessful; another in the mid-1980s showed the world a still inspired but mellower, less abrasive Simone. She now lives in California