Her real name, Eunice Kathleen Waymon, was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and civil rights activist widely associated with jazz music. Simone aspired to become a classical pianist while working in a broad range of styles including classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop.
Born a preacher's kid in North Carolina, Simone aspired to be a concert pianist as a child. She was denied a scholarship to the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, despite a well-received audition. Simone was later told by someone working at Curtis that she was rejected because she was black. In addition, she began to give piano lessons. When she discovered that one of her students was playing in a bar in Atlantic City -- and being paid more than she was from her piano teaching -- she decided to try this route herself. she began playing piano in 1954 at the Midtown Bar and Grill in Atlantic City, to fund her continuing musical education to become a classical pianist. She adopted the name of Nina Simone to avoid her mother's religious disapproval of playing in a bar. The bar owner demanded that she add vocals to her piano playing, and Nina Simone began to draw large audiences of younger people who were fascinated by her eclectic musical repertoire and style. Soon she was playing in better nightclubs, and moved into the Greenwich Village scene.
In the 1960s, Nina Simone was part of the civil rights movement and later the black power movement. Her songs are considered by some as anthems of those movements, and their evolution shows the growing hopelessness that American racial problems would be solved. Nina Simone wrote "Mississippi Goddam" after the bombing of a Baptist church in Alabama killed four children. This song was also inspired from Medgar Evers assassination in Mississippi. This song was often sung in civil rights contexts, but was not often played on radio. She introduced this song in performances as a show tune for a show that hadn't yet been written. Other Nina Simone songs adopted by the civil rights movement as anthems included "Backlash Blues," "Old Jim Crow," "Four Women" and "To Be Young, Gifted and Black."
Nina Simone's growing bitterness with America's racism, disputes with the record companies and her troubles with the IRS all led to her leaving the United States. She first moved to Barbados, and then, with the encouragement of Miriam Makeba, moved to Liberia. A later move to Switzerland, for the sake of her daughter's education, was followed by a comeback attempt in London which failed when she put her faith in a sponsor. This sponsor was quite the opposite, he turned out to be a con man who robbed, beat, and abandoned her. She tried to commit suicide, but when that failed, she found her faith in the future renewed. She built her career slowly, moving to Paris in 1978 and gaining small successes.
In 1985, Nina Simone returned to the United States to record and perform. She focused on what would be popular, de-emphasizing her political views, and won growing acclaim. Her career soared when a British commercial for Chanel used her 1958 recording of "My Baby Just Cares for Me," which then became a hit in Europe. Nina Simone moved back to the South of France in 1991. She published her biography, I Put a Spell on You, and continued to record and perform.
Simone's "High Priestess of Soul". On stage, Simone moved from gospel to blues, jazz, and folk, to numbers with European classical styling, and Bach-style fugal counterpoint. She incorporated monologues and dialogues with the audience into the program, and often used silence as a musical element. Simone compared it to "mass hypnosis.>