Eunice Kathleen Waymon, better known as Dr. Nina Simone (February 21, 1933 April 21, 2003), was a singer, songwriter and pianist. She generally is classified as a jazz musician, but disliked that categorisation herself; and her work also has been described as covering the blues, rhythm and blues and soul. Her vocal style is characterized by passion, breathiness, and tremolo.
Simone was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon at 33 East Livingston Street in Tryon, North Carolina, one of eight children. Like a number of other African-American singers, she was inspired as a child by Marian Anderson and began singing at her local church, also showing prodigious talent as a pianist. When she debuted publicly at a piano recital at age ten, her parents, who had taken seats in the front row, were forced to move to the back of the hall to make way for whites. This incident contributed to her later involvement in the civil rights movement.
At seventeen, Simone moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she taught piano and accompanied singers. She was able to begin studying piano at New York City's prestigious Juilliard School of Music, thanks to the sponsorship of benefactors, but lack of funds meant that she was unable to fulfill her dream of becoming America's first African-American concert pianist. She later had an interview to study piano at the Curtis Institute, but was rejected. Simone believed that she was rejected because she was black.
Simone turned instead to blues and jazz after getting her start in an Atlantic City nightclub, taking the name Nina Simone in 1954 - "Nina" was her boyfriend's nickname for her (from the Spanish for "little girl"), and "Simone" was after the French actress Simone Signoret. She first came to public notice in 1959 with her wrenching rendition of George Gershwin's "I Loves You Porgy" (from Porgy and Bess), her only Top 40 hit in the United States. This was soon followed by the single "My Baby Just Cares for Me" (this was also a hit in the 1980s in the United Kingdom when used for television advertisements for Chanel No. 5 perfume).
Throughout the 1960s, Simone was involved in the civil rights movement and recorded a number of political songs, including "To Be Young, Gifted and Black" (later covered by Aretha Franklin and Donny Hathaway), "Backlash Blues," "Mississippi Goddam" (a response to the murder of Medgar Evers and the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama killing four black children), "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free," and Kurt Weill's "Pirate Jenny," set in a southern hotel.
In 1961, Simone recorded a version of the traditional song "House of the Rising Sun", a song which was later recorded by Bob Dylan and was a hit for The Animals. Other songs she is famous for include "I Put a Spell on You" (originally by Screamin' Jay Hawkins), The Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun," "Four Women," "I Shall Be Released," and "Aint Got No (I Got Life)." Nina's versatility as an artist was evident throughout her music, which often had a folk-music simplicity. In a single concert, she moved easily from gospel-inspired tunes to blues and jazz and, in numbers like "For All We Know," to numbers infused with European classical stylings, and counterpoint fugues. Simone's "Sinner Man" featured in The Thomas Crown Affair, with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo.
In 1971, Simone left the United States following disagreements with agents, record labels, and the tax authorities, citing racism as the reason. She returned in 1978 and was arrested for tax evasion (she had withheld several years of income tax as a protest against the Vietnam War). She lived in various countries in the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe, continuing to perform into her 60s. In the 1980s, she performed regularly at Ronnie Scott's jazz club in London.
In 1995, Simone purportedly shot her neighbour's son with a BB gun after his laughing disturbed her concentration. She had a reputation in the music industry for being volatile and sometimes difficult to deal with, a characterization with which Simone vigorously took issue. Though her onstage style could be somewhat haughty and aloof, in later years Simone particularly seemed to enjoy engaging her adoring audiences by recounting sometimes humorous anecdotes related to her career and music and soliciting requests. Simone's regal bearing and commanding stage presence earned her the title the "High Priestess of Soul."
Her daughter, an actress/singer known only as Simone, has appeared on Broadway in Aida.
Simone's autobiography I Put a Spell on You (ISBN 0306805251) was published in 1992.
In 1993, she settled near Aix-en-Provence in the south of France. She died in her sleep in Carry-le-Rouet in 2003.
Her music continues to be featured in motion picture soundtracks, including the 1993 film Point of No Return (aka The Assassin), 1996's Romeo and Juliet, and 1999's The Thomas Crown Affair. Her music is also present in the end of the Before Sunrise film sequel Before Sunset, and the final sequence of Shallow Grave.