Let’s talk Nina Simone. If you’re a music fan, you’ve probably heard her name and the song “Feeling Good,” and perhaps you have an idea of what she’s all about musically and socially.
Our recent relocation from Los Angeles to North Carolina led to our discovery that the town Nina was born in is just thirty miles away, in Tryon. We also found out her childhood home is still there. The house had only recently been designated a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It had been spared demolition (yet again) by four New York artists, who purchased it with the intent of restoring and preserving it forever, in her honor.
All of this, in addition to watching the movie “What Happened, Miss Simone?” brought us to the realization – we’ve gotta make a day trip to Tryon! We did just that, and it was a wonderful day. Surprisingly, we were able to freely walk right up onto the porch of the house, look in the windows, and even sit on the stoop for a few minutes to do some vlogging. We also explored historic downtown Tryon just a mile away, where Nina Simone Plaza has been permanently honoring her legacy since 2010. You can see our day in Tryon here!
Nina Simone was an American singer, songwriter, musician, arranger, and civil rights activist. And she was all of these things at the highest level. A classically trained pianist at her core, her music spanned a wide range of styles including R&B, jazz, gospel, blues, pop, folk, and of course, classical.
Childhood – Eunice Waymon
Born Eunice Waymon in 1933, she began playing piano at around three or four years old. Her mother began bringing her to church where she started playing piano and organ there. It was there at church that a woman discovered her and began classically training her once a week.
Eunice grew up in the 1930s in the segregated South. Train tracks divide the town and run alongside the main street. These were the same tracks that she had to cross as a child to get from her home on “the black side of town” to get to her piano teacher’s home on “the white side of town.”
She gave her first classical concert recital at the age of twelve, where her parents were asked to move from the front row to the back, due to segregation. The constant awareness of the color of her skin, and how it caused her to be treated differently shaped her as she grew, and would ultimately lead to her activism in the 1960s and throughout her life.
Becoming Nina Simone
Eunice adopted the name Nina Simone in the 1950s, while playing in nightclubs to continue to fund her music education. She changed her name to stay under the radar, knowing her mother wouldn’t approve of her “playing the devil’s music” in nightclubs.
As she rose to popularity moving into the1960s, she became more involved in Civil Rights activism. She became close with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, whom she eventually lived next door to. Nina performed and spoke at civil rights meetings, such as the Selma to Montgomery marches. Over time, the music industry began shying away from booking and promoting Miss Simone, due to the controversial nature of her activism.
Nevertheless, Nina recorded forty albums between 1958-1974. During the 1980s she performed regularly in London. By this time, she was moving around and living just about everywhere – Liberia, Switzerland, Barbados, and eventually, Paris. She would live out the rest of her life in France until she passed away in 2003. Such notables as Patti LaBelle and hundreds of others attended the funeral.
Influence Of Nina Simone
Her influence has been cited by the likes of Elton John, Aretha Franklin, David Bowie, and again – hundreds of others. Simone’s music has been featured in numerous commercials, soundtracks, video games, and TV series, and she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.
Miss Nina Simone is equally as important socially as she is musically, and we only hope that we have encouraged you to explore her life’s contributions.
For more things to do in Western North Carolina, click these links:
- A Perfect Day In Downtown Asheville
- 3 Easy North Carolina Waterfall Hikes To Do With Dogs Near Asheville
And for an easy road trip just a bit more west, there are plenty of things to do in Chattanooga!