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Event celebrates life and legacy of Nina Simone

Nina Simone Nina Simone

Gov. Roy Cooper has proclaimed “The Life and Legacy of Nina Simone” in North Carolina to commemorate the legacy of the High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone.


Born Eunice Waymon in Tryon in 1933, the singer and civil rights activist was a child prodigy who began playing piano at the age of 3 and later trained to become a concert pianist.

“Nina Simone is an icon of American music, and one of North Carolina’s brightest stars,” Cooper said. “It is a pleasure to recognize her lasting impact and legacy in North Carolina and throughout the world.”

Simone’s music has influenced countless artists, including Aretha Franklin, Beyoncé, Madonna, Janis Joplin, Talib Kweli, Peter Gabriel and others. She is a member of the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Rolling Stone’s “100 greatest Singers of All Time.”

Last year, the National Trust designated Nina Simone’s birthplace and childhood home a National Treasure and announced a campaign to rehabilitate, preserve, and identify a new use for it in collaboration with the home’s owners.

"In her childhood home, she developed a love for her piano and experienced racial discrimination that would shape her world view and social activism later in life," the National Trust for Historic Preservation said. "Her mother was a devout Methodist preacher, and her father was entrepreneurial (he had worked as an entertainer early in his own life). ...

"As a young girl, Simone accompanied her mother’s sermons and the church choir on the piano during services. After hearing Simone, then age 6, accompany the community choir at the Tryon Theater, two women convinced her mother she needed formal piano lessons. One of the women, Mrs. Muriel Mazzanovich, was a local piano teacher. She taught Simone at her house in Tryon for the next four years and organized the Eunice Waymon Fund to raise money for Simone to continue her training after she left for high school.

"To thank those who supported the fund, Simone performed her debut recital at the Tryon Library in 1943 at age 11. However, living in a Jim Crow-segregated South, Simone’s parents were forced to give up their seats for white audience members when they arrived at the library. Even then a fierce defender of what she believed to be right, Simone refused to play until her parents were returned to their rightful place in the front row."

Simone was celebrated this weekend in an event of the North Carolina Museum of Art, Come Hear NC, the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission, the North Carolina Arts Council and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Her daughter Lisa Simone, an award-winning actress and Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist, performed her mother's signature songs in a concert at the N.C. Museum of Art on Saturday. Proceeds from the concert will benefit the rehabilitation and preservation of the Nina Simone Childhood Home.

In addition to the concert, the museum hosted workshops, a screening of the documentary, “What Happened, Miss Simone?” and other events.