She was a one-of-a-kind performer and recording artist whose distinctive style and pure artistry have influenced everyone from Lauryn Hill to Patti LaBelle. A musical legend in her own time, Nina Simone's fusion of jazz, blues, pop, soul, gospel and folk provided the inspiration for countless contemporary artists from Me'shell NdegeOcello to Dianne Reeves. In a word, she was unique.
Born Eunice Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina in 1933, her earliest musical experiences revolved her ability to play classical piano at the age of four while being exposed to the gospel influences of her parents, who were both preachers. During the early ‘50s, she moved to New York to study at the Juilliard School of Music; she spent time in Philadelphia to continue her classical training and in the summer of 1954, she took a summer job at an Atlantic City nightclub to earn additional income. The gig proved a turning point: Eunice Waymon became Nina Simone and her highly original interpretations of pop and jazz material helped her build a loyal following on the East Coast.
In 1959, she recorded briefly for Bethlehem Records and enjoyed her first major hit record with her haunting interpretation of "I Loves You Porgy" from "Porgy & Bess." She signed with Colpix Records and made a series of critically acclaimed albums for the label, covering an amazing range of material from African chants to Israeli folk songs, from Ellington standards to time-honored spirituals.
A 1963 move to Philips Records coincided with Nina's emergence as a leader in civil rights movement. She was considered one of the most important artists of the time, willing to take a stand in the pursuit of equal rights and giving voice to her own feelings through such tunes as "Mississippi Goddam" and "Old Jim Crow."
Nina began attracting an international audience through songs like "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" and "I Put A Spell On You" and became an increasingly popular performer in Europe in the mid-‘60s. She joined RCA Records in 1966 and continued to make albums that reflected her eclectic musical tastes and her skills as vocal interpreter and highly talented keyboardist. During her RCA years, she co-wrote and recorded the original version of the now-classic "To Be Young, Gifted & Black."
Nina continued to perform on both sides of the Atlantic, maintaining her residence in the South of France. Cited as a major influence by such contemporary artists as Lauryn Hill, Nina Simone has over forty albums to her credit. She made her transition on April 21, 2003.
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.