The jazz and blues singer Nina Simone,
considered by many to be one of the finest singers and songwriters of
her generation, died in her sleep after a long illness at her home in
southern France yesterday. She was 70 years old
Nina’s distinctive style left its
imprint on every form of music she touched, causing some jazz reviewers
to put her in a category all by herself. Not confining herself to jazz
and blues, she also left her mark in spirituals and Gospel singing,
eventually becoming one of the most powerful symbols of the civil rights
movement in the America of the 1960s.
She was born Eunice Waymon in 1933
in North Carolina. Already at the age of seven she was playing the organ
in a local church, later moving to New York to study classical piano
in New York at the Juilliard School of Music, a rare opportunity for
a black woman in the 1950s.
As a singer her low-key interpretation
of the blues quickly brought her to the public eye. Accompanying herself
on piano, she changed her name to Nina Simone and enjoyed some prominence
for a time. It was her version of the Gus Kahn/Walter
Donaldson number My Baby Just Cares For Me that brought her biggest
commercial success, followed by a recording of Gershwin’s I Loves
You Porgy that was to become one of her biggest hits. Later
on, in 1987, a re-released My Baby Just Cares For Me endeared
her to a whole new generation of fans, and the song was used for a while
in a Chanel advertisement.
Nina became deeply involved in the
American civil rights movement, capturing the
tragedy and pain of the assassination of Martin Luther King in her song
Why? The King of Love is Dead. She later
made another scathing attack on racial injustice in the US with her
song Mississippi Goddam, written after a Klu Klux Klan
bombing of a Baptist church in Alabama that killed a group of black
In 1969 her song To Be Young, Gifted
and Black made her a role model for Afro-American women and became
an anthem for the movement to end segregation in the United States.
The jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater later declared, "I would say
the person who influenced me most as a young black girl was Nina Simone
because she was so outspoken."
Nina's repertoire embraced works as
diverse as those of Bob Dylan and the Bee Gees. Her range of styles
in over 50 albums included classical, gospel, folk, pop, opera, and
rock. She was consistently revered and imitated
by other singers.
In 1974, after becoming disenchanted
with life in the United States, she moved to Barbados for a while before
settling in the south of France. In an interview
in 1998 she said that her protest songs had been her personal attempt
to defend the rights of American blacks. That same year she was a special
guest at Nelson Mandela's 80th birthday party. Nina blamed racism in
the United States for her decision to live abroad, saying that racial
inequality in the US, even then, was "worse than ever".
Nina was twice married and divorced,
and is survived by her daughter, Lisa.