I had spent many years pursuing excellence because that is what classical music is all about... Now it was dedicated to freedom, and that was far more important.
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5 things to know about Nina Sinome
When Eunice Waymon Became Nina Simone
Nina Simone was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in 1933 in North Carolina. To make a living, she started playing at a bar in Atlantic City. To hide this from her family, she decided to change her name. And so, Eunice was changed to Nina, deriving from the Spanish word “niña,”, which was a nickname given by her boyfriend. Waylon became Simone, inspired by the French actress Simone Signoret. In Atlantic City she was asked to accompany herself on the piano for $90 a week, and this is where the image of Nina Simone was born.
Folk vs jazz? No, but emotions yes!
‘If I had to be called something, it should have been a folk singer because there was more folk and blues than jazz in my playing’; Nina Simone wrote in her autobiography. Her musical style fused a range of influences including blues, gospel, pop and a classical. One of her most distinctive characteristics was her jazz contralto voice with its’ trademark free vibrato and dark timbre. Expression was her main focus and, as she says, this is why “sometimes I sound like gravel, and sometimes I sound like coffee and cream”.
Civil Rights Activist
Nina Simone originally aspired to be a classical pianist, and so she began playing the piano at her local church and had her debut at the age of ten. As she progressed, she was taking lessons at the famous Juilliard School of Music in New York. However, after a failed audition to the Curtis institute, her aspirations were shot, and she claimed to be a victim of racial prejudice. Years later, she stated that “slavery has never been abolished from America’s way of thinking”. She wrote her first political song Mississippi Goddamn, based on the murder of an activist Medgar Evers committed by a Ku Klux Klan member. The song became one of her many pieces talking about the race relations in America and she became known as ‘the voice’ of the Civil Rights Movement. She believed that the artist’s duty is to reflect the times and that one “can be a complete politician through music.”
The Troubled Soul
During a busy period of touring Simone wrote to herself: “Must take sleeping pills to sleep and yellow pills to go on stage”. She turned to alcohol, pills, and sex as means of dealing with her mental states. Her husband and manager Andrew Stroud often treated her cruelly, abusing her both mentally and physically and controlling every aspect of her life. Her journals show that she was a troubled soul, who often suffered from depression and suicidal tendencies. Despite the abuse she received from her husband maintained that she “loved physical violence”. Her temper was fierce and her patience fragile and sadly her bi-polar disorder was not diagnosed until very late on in her career.
Fight for freedom
Nina Simone fought all her life for freedom, for herself and for others.: “I had a few moments on stage where I really felt free (…) I will tell you what freedom is for me: not to be afraid. I mean, zero fear! If only I could have had half of my life. More afraid. ”
She died of breast cancer on April 21, 2003.
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