5 Notable women of the past and present (special series part 4): The legacy in 2010

Photo portrait of Nina Simone with daughter Lisa “Simone” Kelly
(photo by the Nina Simone Foundation.)

Nina Simone’s achievements were celebrated with, among others, awards like the 1966 Jazz at Home Club’s “Woman of the Year,” and the 1967 “Female Jazz Singer of the Year.” As if to help make up for the anguish in her tortured genius soul, the committee for Human Kindness Day in Washington, D.C., selected her as the day’s honoree in 1974.

None of these, however, proved sufficient enough to compensate for the wounds inflicted by racism or the grief experienced over the death of peers who understood her best. Like Josephine Baker, Abbey Lincoln and others before her she left the United States in 1978 in search of greater artistic and political freedom. Her journey over the next seven years took her to Barbados, Liberia, England, Switzerland, and France, where she eventually settled. Relocation, however, did not solve all of her problems and she sometimes engaged in widely-reported public battles with stress and depression.

She returned to her homeland in 1985 to perform and record for six years before going to the Netherlands, then moving back to South of France.

The Challenge from within

The great performer revealed in her 1991 autobiography that she once attempted suicide. Since the publication of I Put a Spell on You, at least two biographers have explored the theory that she suffered from a bipolar disorder and depression. Some have taken this as the reason she sometimes appeared combative towards unruly audiences or certain critics and described it as the cause of her “downward spiral.” Others have interpreted the possibility as one of the sources of her phenomenal talent. Moreover, that fact that she evidently won battle after battle against the illness to produce the triumphant award-winning works that she did, make her in the eyes of many that much more heroic.

Before her death in Carry-le-Rouet , France, on April 21, 2003, Nina Simone enjoyed the satisfaction of receiving honorary degrees from the Julliard School and The Curtis Institute (the very school that had previously denied her application) and honorary doctorates from the University of Massachusetts and Malcolm X University. Consequently, she is often referred to as Dr. Simone.
The Legacy in 2010

One of the greatest confirmations of the value of a musician’s work is the passion with which peers and following generations embrace it. In 2010, Nina Simone has become one of the most covered, remixed, frequently rediscovered, reinterpreted, and generally honored musicians in music history. The sheer diversity of artists––ranging from hip hop and rock stars to Broadway and jazz divas–– who have either “sampled” her work or recorded versions of it, prove her contention that she was an accomplished artist of multiple genres. Among those who have linked their creative visions to that of Simone’s are: hip hop artists Common, Lil Wayne, Timbaland, and Kanye West; the groups Faithless , Walkabouts, and the Animals; and European cabaret singer Barb Jungr as well as American jazz diva Randy Crawford, in addition to many more.

Sculptor Zenos Frudakis at work on life-sized bronze of
Nina Simone
. Please see below for a video of the dedication
program for this sculpture.
(photo by the Eunice Waymon-Nina Simone project.)

The music icon was also a favored subject of photographers while she lived and is a treasured focus of fine artists now. Sculptor Zenos Frudakis worked with the Eunice Waymon-Nina Simone Memorial Project to create a life-sized bronze statue of the singer. A dedication ceremony was held for it February 21, 2010, in Simone’s hometown of Tryon.

This Mother’s Daughter

Nina Simone was married to her manager and business partner Andy Stroud when she gave birth to her daughter and only child, Lisa “Simone” Kelly, in 1962. Like her mother, she also developed into an exceptional entertainer. Known simply as “Simone,” she has starred in such major Broadway productions as Rent and Aida. She made her recording debut in 2008 with Simone on Simone, a CD of covers of her mother’s music. A second album reportedly is set for release in spring 2010.

Celebratory dedication of life-sized sculpture of Eunice Waymon-Nina Simone
in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, with daughter Simone in attendance
(YouTube video courtesy of ChrisRiddle56)

Following Nina Simone’s death, Simone the Second established the Nina Simone Foundation (NSF) as s a non-profit organization dedicated both to preserving the performer/composer’s legacy and to spearheading initiatives to establish various education opportunities and cultural resources. From April 16-25 in Atlanta, Georgia, the Nina Simone Estate will present The Nina Simone Experience. In addition to performances and a fashion show, the event will feature a fine arts exhibition of works depicting images of Nina Simone and visual interpretations of her music.

In an interview with Jet Magazine in 2008, Simone pointed out, “I am keeping my mother’s name out there in a positive light, which she deserves because she sacrificed a lot and she stood for a lot. She deserves to be recognized and honored for that.”

NEXT: 5 Notable Women of the Past and Present Part 5

by Aberjhani
The National African-American Art Examiner and author/co-author of eight books, including Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance and ELEMENTAL The Power of Illuminated Love.