Recently Netflix released a documentary on Nina Simone entitled, What Happened, Miss Simone? The film depicted the struggles, the triumphs, and an in depth look on who the star really was starting from the tender age of 4. In the past, I’ve heard of Ms. Simone’s popular works such as “Feeling Good”, and one of my favorites, “Four Women”. But I did not know the complexities of her life until I saw this documentary. Ms. Simone was not only revolutionary, and extremely passionate about her music, but also very conflicted. Read below for the 10 things I learned about her:
- She has studied classical piano since she was 4. She began playing classical piano in church when the white women her mother worked for decided to teach her. They would hold recitals for her, and save the money so that when she became older she could further her musical education and achieve her dream of becoming the first black classical pianist.
- Her real name is not Nina Simone. After being rejected from her dream school to further her career, she began performing at local clubs. In order to avoid her religious mother finding out, she changed her birth name Eunice Waymon to Nina Simone.
- During the Civil Rights Movement she sang songs about the revolution. Ms. Simone was very outspoken on the lack of equality in America for African Americans and believed it was her job as a musician to expose what was happening.
- She performed at Selma. During Martin Luther King’s march from Selman-to-Montgomery, Ms. Simone was one of the artists that were invited to sing to the protesters to keep their spirits up. She performed one of her most controversial songs, “Mississippi Goddam.” Which touched on the plight of black people in wake of the church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama.
- She surrounded herself with well-known black activists such as: Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X’s family, and Lorraine Hansberry. In fact, Lorraine Hansberry was not only the author of A Raisin In The Sun, and the inspiration behind her song “To be Young, Gifted, and Black,” a Civil Rights anthem, but also the God Mother of her daughter.
- She believes that singing controversial songs ultimately hurt her career. Ms. Simone was very passionate about the Civil Rights movement but the nature of her songs did prevent her from achieving more commercial success.
- Ms. Simone struggled with depression throughout her life. Being in a abusive relationship with her husband and the pressures of fame contributed to her future diagnosis of manic depression. She alludes to this depression throughout the documentary. Simone’s friends also commented on her temperamental behavior and sudden mood changes due to her bi-polarism.
- After divorcing her husband, she begins to treat her daughter the way her husband treated her, which resulted in a difficult mother-daughter relationship. Her daughter describes their abusive relationship,”…as her never being able to do anything right” this eventually resulted with her daughter leaving Simone at the age of 14 to live with her father.
- She moved to Liberia. Ms. Simone followed “Garveyism” in her actions. Marcus Garvey believed in the empowerment of African-American men, women, and children. He also believed that there was no place for black people in America therefore blacks should move to their own country. This country was named Liberia.
- Music always took center stage in her life. Even as a young child Ms. Simone was a loner.
She was unable to hang out with the white kids due to racism and the black kids shunned her because she played the piano. Even as she started a family, she was always touring. As she got older, she began playing music again only out of the necessity for cash. Through all her ups and downs music was always at the forefront.
Also, click below to hear Lauryn Hill’s incredible rendition of Nina Simone’s, “Feeling Good,” and my favorite cover of “Four Women”