|She was born Eunice Waymon in Tryon, N.C., the sixth of seven children. The
family quickly recognized her musical talents as the child prodigy could play
the piano by the time she was four. Because they were too poor to afford all
the training she would need to nurture her talent her music teacher helped by
setting up a fund.
She would ultimately study classical music at the Julliard School of Music in
New York. But in an effort to help support her family financially, she
started working as an accompanist and later added singing to her repertoire.
With this new foray into show business she changed her name to Nina (meaning
"little one") and took the last name Simone from the French actress Simone
Today she is the Grand Dame of music and has even been dubbed the "High
Priestess of Soul." As a pianist, singer, arranger and composer, Simone is
the ultimate storyteller as she has documented the African-American
experience in song. Her vast repertoire includes the blues, classical music,
folk songs, gospel, jazz standards as well as songs from musicals and operas.
And while her music flows through wide range of themes and emotions, her
social commentaries have been stamped on my consciousness.
There is "Mississippi Goddam" written in 1963 after the bombing of the church
in Birmingham killed four black little girls. When she later tackle the issue
of color among black women in the song "Four Women" it was declared an insult
to black people and banned on radio stations in New York and Philadelphia.
When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated she wrote "Why? The King of
Love is Dead."
Many would agree that next to Billy Holiday, Simone's rendition of "Strange
Fruit" is one of the most haunting. The timbre in her voice so effectively
captures the rawness and the violence of lynching that it still gives me the
chills when I listen to it. But it was her song "To Be Young, Gifted and
Black," inspired by Lorraine Hansberry's play of the same name, that held the
spotlight transfixed on Simone. In fact, the song became a black national
anthem of sorts.
Like many of our musical elders Simone felt forced to escape the racism in
this country. So in 1974 she moved first to Barbados but since then she has
lived in Liberia, Switzerland and The Netherlands and currently resides in
the South of France.
Last May, As part of her Millennium Tour, Simone made a rare concert
appearance at Constitution Hall. While I'm privileged to cover many great
performances and performers, this one was profoundly important and ranks
among my best concert memories. While the name Nine Simone may mean nothing
to much of today's audiences weaned on the mind-numbing pop drivel ala Sisqo
and Destiny's Child, this Grande Dame is a study in grace and authentic,
uncompromising talent. As she lead the capacity crowd through one classic
song after another, she peppered each song with anecdotes and witticisms that
held us transfixed and wanting more.
On Saturday, June 23 at 8 p.m. Nine Simone will once again perform at
Constitution Hall. Tickets are $37.50 & $52.50 and are available through all
Ticketmaster outlets. Call 800-551-SEAT.
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