Many accomplished artists today, such as Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, and Lauryn Hill have cited Nina Simone as being the inspiration behind their work, further sealing her reputation as one of the most influential recording artists of the 20th century.
The talented singer and pianist, whose musical style spanned across different genres as she was known to masterfully fuse gospel music with the classical and jazz sound, was unfortunately never awarded any notable award in her lifetime. She received a total of four Grammy Awards nominations; two while alive and two posthumously, but was ultimately inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.
Early Life and Education
Nina Simone was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon, the sixth of eight children to Mary Kate Waymon (nee Irvin) and Rev. John Devan Waymon, on the 21st of February, 1933, in Tyron, North Carolina. Her family was poor as her mother worked as a maid while her father was a handyman, although both parents eventually became ministers.
Simone began playing the piano at around the age of 3. She subsequently honed her skills by playing the instrument at their local church before being able to make her concert debut at a classical recital when she was 12. Due to her family being in the low-income bracket, Simone was only able to attend Allen High School for Girls in Asheville, North Carolina thanks to funding set up by her local community. After graduating high school, she had hoped to attend the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia but her application was denied.
Following that disappointment, Nina Simone took a job as a photographer and an accompanist, while also teaching piano from her home. By 1954, she began performing in Atlantic City under the pseudonym Nina Simone in order for her mother not to find out she was doing secular music, which her mother referred to as the “Devil’s Music”.
Nina Simone’s Family – Daughter, Husband
Nina Simone was married twice; first to beatnik/fairground barker Donald Ross from 1958 to 1960, then to New York Police detective Andrew Stroud from 1961 to 1971.
Details about her first marriage are quite sketchy as it is reported that Ms. Simone regretted the union. The pair were said to have first been friends before deciding to take what they shared to the next level. They got married in 1958 but ended it just a year later. The songstress, who was at this time gaining popularity for her work, decided to tie the knot with three-time divorcee Andy Stroud.
After exchanging vows, Stroud, a former Navy serviceman who gained a fearsome reputation on the streets as a cop, decided to become her manager and abused her both physically and psychologically throughout their marriage, although Simone revealed that one of the things she was attracted to about him was his macho, aggressive style. It was revealed in her biography that on one occasion, her husband beat her from outside of a club to their car and then to the elevator in their apartment and subsequently in their home before tying her up and raping her because she pocketed a note given to her by a fan.
Despite all the trauma she was going through, Nina Simone and her husband welcomed a baby together, a daughter named Lisa Simone Waymon Stroud, born on the 12th of September 1962. Lisa Simone served in the United States Air Force as an engineering assistant before following in the footsteps of her mother to pursue a career in the entertainment industry, becoming a singer and actress. Lisa Simone has so far released four solo albums and appeared in a number of theatre productions, most notably playing the title role in the Disney musical Aida.
Death Of The Singer
By the late 1980’s, Nina Simone was diagnosed with mental illness; bipolar disorder to be exact. She was at this time living in the south of France and was able to manage the disease while reviving her almost dead career. Later on, by the late 1990’s, Simone was diagnosed with breast cancer. The “Young, Gifted and Black” singer battled the disease for a few years before passing on in her sleep on the 21st of April, 2003 at her home in Carry-le-Rouet, Bouches-du-Rhône.
Nina Simone’s funeral was attended by hundreds of people including singers Patti LaBelle and Miriam Makeba and her ashes were subsequently scattered in several African countries.