Profile of the High Priestess of Soulful Jazz
Nina Simone: a unique voice, a talented pianist and an artist who pushed the boundaries of creativity to the extreme. She continues to influence younger artists from Alternative-Rockers Muse to Soul Divas. In her music, she has left a legacy of songs that tell stories from the heart. Renowned as a captivating live performer, Nina Simone had a singular ability to transfer honesty and emotion from the stage to the studio. The qualities that make the voice of Nina Simone are hard to articulate: fragile yet powerful; soulful, feminine and steeped in the tradition of Black American music. It’s a voice that has left a lasting impression.
She was born Eunice Waymonaka in North Carolina, USA on February 21, 1933. As one of eight children, she started her career as a classical pianist, studying at New York’s prestigious Juilliard School of Music – a very rare position for an African-American woman in the 1950s. To support her family financially and her studies, she started working as a Pianist/Singer in an Atlantic City nightclub. It was during this period that she changed her name to Nina Simone. In the late 1950s, she recorded for the Bethlehem label but, it was her remarkable version of the George Gershwin ‘I Loves You Porgy’, her first US hit single in 1959 that announced her presence as a new star. Nina was never going to be just another Soul diva and she remained her own artist even after her immense potential was recognized by RCA who, signed her in 1966.
‘Nina Simone Sings The Blues’ was a landmark recording – her first for the RCA label and an experiment with a new sound that paid off in spades. Released in 1966, the album featured a diverse array of songs from every area of popular music. There is an intimate, live feel to the album and, the highlights are numerous. ‘I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl’ became a signature tune for Simone and also of note are her inimitable interpretations of songs like ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’, ‘House Of The Rising Sun’, ‘Since I Fell For You’ and ‘My Man’s Gone Now’ (from Gershwin’s ‘Porgy And Bess’). It was a year of phenomenal creativity for Simone who released no less than three other albums that year including the stellar ‘High Priestess Of Soul’. After the mid-Sixties high, Simone encountered a number of personal and financial difficulties, leaving RCA in the late ‘70s and relocating to Europe. She remained a huge concert draw until her passing in 2003.