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Someone To Watch Over Me

Nina Simone

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Montreux Jazz Festival 1987

Nina Simone performs “Someone To Watch Over Me” live at the 1987 Montreux Jazz Festival.

Eunice Kathleen Waymon was born on February 21, 1933 in Tryon, North Carolina and was one of eight children and the daughter of a Methodist minister. Nina was surrounded by music growing up and learned to play the piano at a young age. Simone’s mother took a job as a maid and when her employer saw Nina’s talent they sponsored classical piano lessons for her. By the time Nina was in high school her incredible talent was realized and her she enrolled at Julliard School of Music instead of her last year of high school. Nina had planned to enroll at the Curtis Institute to study piano but was not accepted due to her race. Instead she moved to Philadelphia with her family and began giving music lessons.

When Simone discovered one of her students was making more money performing at bars that she was giving lessons, Nina decided to give it a try. In 1964 she began playing in Atlantic City and changed her name to Nina Simone due to her parents religious beliefs and the disapproval of playing music in bars as a result. Not after long Nina found herself performing in the Greenwich Village scene in New York City and drawing large audiences who were falling in love in her. Simone recorded her first album in 1957 called ‘Little Girl Blue’ and while it sold well the contract she signed was heavily in favor of the record company and they retained the rights to her music. Her nest album was ‘The Amazing Nina Simone’ on the Colpix label and this album helped spread her music much further.

In the 1960s Nina became heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement and much of her music during this period expresses the pain of dealing with the racism and horrible treatment of Black people in America. Some of her best known songs that express that pain are “Mississippi Goddamn” written after the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and the murder of Medgar Evers as well as “Backlash Blues”, “Old Jim Crow”, “Four Women” and “To Be Young Gifted and Black”. Nina’s songs “Four Women” and her cover of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” also became anthems for the Women’s Rights Movement. After the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and the death of two of her close friends Langston Hughes and Lorraine Hansberry, Nina could stand America no longer and decided to move to Europe. Simone spent time in Barbados, Liberia, Switzerland and Paris while raising her daughter and performing when and where she could.

Simone returned to America in 1985 and was able to revive her career before returning to Europe for good in 1991 and ending up in the South of France. She published her biography “I Put A Spell on You” and continued to perform until she passed away in 2003. Two days before Nina passed the Curtis Institute, who denied her admission for college due to race, gave her an honorary diploma. In her life Simone recorded over sixty albums and composed over 500 songs and was the first woman to win the Jazz Cultural Award. Nina continues to inspire new generations of people and musicians to find and express themselves and what is meaningful to them in their lives. Her contributions will live on and were sorely needed.

“There’s no other purpose, so far as I’m concerned, for us except to reflect the times, the situations around us and the things we’re able to say through our art, the things that millions of people can’t say. I think that’s the function of an artist and, of course, those of us who are lucky leave a legacy so that when we’re dead, we also live on. That’s people like Billie Holiday and I hope that I will be that lucky, but meanwhile, the function, so far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times, whatever that might be.”

“I had spent many years pursuing excellence, because that is what classical music is all about… Now it was dedicated to freedom, and that was far more important.”

“Slavery has never been abolished from America’s way of thinking.” – Nina Simone

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