by Danielle Friedl
Nina Simone, born Eunice Kathleen Waymon, was gifted in mind, body and soul. Born the sixth out of seven children into a poor black family in 1930s North Carolina, she was labeled a child prodigy at the age of four with her gift to play piano. A fighter for civil rights at the age of ten, young Eunice refused to play her first piano recital until her parents were allowed to sit in front rather then in the back with the rest of the African Americans.
Nina's education was a blessing. Upon hearing of the young girl's natural talent, her mother's employer set up a fund, and with local support furthered Nina's education. She went on to teach piano to others to fund her own way through Julliard but when she was rejected due to her race to attend Curtis Institute, a switch was flipped.In 1954 she took her famous stage name, Nina Simone, and secured a job playing piano and singing in Atlantic City. In 1958 she did her own rendition of George Gershwin's 'I Loves You Porgy', which catapulted her name to stardom, though she would never see the royalties.
Her stage presence was astounding and unmatched. Her performances were known as happenings, rather then concerts. In a single concert she commanded the title of singer, pianist, dancer, actress and activist.
Her life and professional experiences taught her that she was strongly prejudiced against due to the color of her skin. She changed from the record label that removed all the creativity from her as an artist to the Philips label. On her debut album Simone began to expose the harsh racial inequality in the United States. From that point on her albums were a musical message on civil rights.
After years of performances and fighting for civil rights, Simone left for Barbados, where she ended up staying for some time due to problems in the States with the tax authorities. She headed back to Barbados and from there she went to Liberia, Switzerland, the Netherlands and finally settled in France. After suffering from breast cancer for several years, Simone died in her sleep in her home in France.
Simone's legacy lives on, as she is cited by artists from diverse musical fields as a source of great inspiration. The High Priestess of Soul lives on in television, music and in the hearts and works of musical artists everywhere.