Eunice Kathleen Waymon, better known as Nina Simone (February 21, 1933 - April 21, 2003) was a singer, songwriter and pianist. She is generally classified as being a jazz musician, but disliked that categorisation herself, and her work has also been described as covering the blues, rhythm and blues and soul.
Simone was born 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. She gave her public debut playing the piano at the age of ten - her parents, who had taken seats in the front row, were forced to move to make way for whites. It has been speculated that this incident planted a seed which later grew into her 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 (it has been speculated this was because she was black).
Simone turned instead to blues and jazz, taking the name "Nina Simone" in 1954 - "Nina" was her boyfriend's nickname for her (from the Spanish for "girl") and "Simone" was after the French actress Simone Signoret. She first came into the public eye in 1959 with her somewhat melodramatic version of George Gershwin's "I Loves You Porgy" (from Porgy and Bess) which proved to be 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), "Blacklash Blues", "Mississippi Goddam" (a response to the murder of Medgar Evers and the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama killing four black children) and "I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free".
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) and "My Baby Just Cares for Me". In lesser-known numbers like "For All We Know", which has a piano part reminiscent of Johann Sebastian Bach, her classical training was clear.
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.
Attention has been drawn to some deterioration in Simone's vocal power in later years (perhaps to be expected given her age), but she continued to draw crowds. She also became known for a volatile personality, apparently shooting her neighbour's son in 1995 after his laughing disturbed her concentration.
Simone's autobiography, I Put a Spell on You (ISBN 0306805251) was published in 1992.