Eunice Kathleen Waymon, better known by her stage name Nina Simone (IPA: ninɐ sʌmɞnɑ) (February 21, 1933 – April 21, 2003), was a fifteen-time Grammy Award-nominated american singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger and civil rights activist.
Although she disliked being categorized, Simone is generally classified as a jazz musician; She personally preferred the term “Black Classical Music”. Simone originally aspired to become a classical pianist, but her work covers an eclectic variety of musical styles besides her classical basis, such as jazz, soul, folk, rnb, gospel, and pop music. Her vocal style (with an alto vocal range) is characterized by intense passion, breathiness, and tremolo. Sometimes known as the High Priestess of Soul, she paid great attention to the musical expression of emotions. Within one album or concert she could fluctuate between exuberant happiness or tragic melancholy. These fluctuations also characterized her own personality and personal life, worsened by a bipolar disorder with which she was diagnosed in the mid-sixties, but was kept secret until 2004.
Simone recorded over 40 live and studio albums, the biggest body of her work being released between 1958 (when she made her debut with Little Girl Blue) and 1974. Songs she is best known for include “My Baby Just Cares for Me”, “I Put a Spell on You”, “I Loves You Porgy”, “Feeling Good”, “Sinner Man”, “To Be Young, Gifted and Black”, “Strange Fruit”, “Ain’t Got No-I Got Life” and “I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl”. Her music and message made a strong and lasting impact on african-american culture, illustrated by the numerous contemporary artists who cite her as an important influence (among them Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, Jeff Buckley, and Lauryn Hill), as well as the extensive use of her music on soundtracks and in remixes.
Simone was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina, one of eight children. Like a number of other African-American singers, she was inspired as a child by Marian Anderson and began singing at her local church, also showing prodigious talent as a pianist. Her public debut, a piano recital, was made at the age of ten. Her parents, who had taken seats in the front row, were forced to move to the back of the hall to make way for some white people. This incident contributed to her later involvement in the civil rights movement.
Simone’s mother, Mary Kate Waymon (who lived into her late 90s) was a strict Methodist minister; her father, John Divine Waymon, was a handyman and sometime barber who suffered bouts of ill-health. Mrs. Waymon worked as a maid and her employer, hearing of Nina’s talent, provided funds for piano lessons for the little girl. Subsequently, a local fund was set up to assist in Eunice’s continued education.
At seventeen, Simone moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she taught piano and accompanied singers. She was able to begin studying piano at New York City’s prestigious Juilliard School of Music but lack of funds meant that she was unable to fulfill her dream of becoming America’s first Black classical pianist. She later had an interview to study piano at the Curtis Institute, but was rejected. Simone believed this rejection, which fuelled her hatred of racism, was because she was black.
Simone turned instead to blues and jazz after getting her start at the Midtown Bar & Grill on Pacific Avenue in Atlantic City, taking the name Nina Simone in 1954; “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her, and “Simone” was after the French actress Simone Signoret. She first came to public notice in 1959 with her wrenching rendition of George Gershwin’s “I Loves You Porgy” (from Porgy and Bess), her only Top 40 hit in the United States. This was soon followed by the single “My Baby Just Cares for Me” (this was also a hit in the 1980s in the United Kingdom when used for television advertisements for Chanel No. 5 perfume).
Throughout the 1960s, Simone was involved in the civil rights movement and recorded a number of political songs, including “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” (later covered by Aretha Franklin and Donny Hathaway), “Backlash Blues,” “Mississippi Goddam” (a response to the murder of Medgar Evers and the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama killing four black children), “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free,” and Kurt Weill’s “Pirate Jenny,” from The Threepenny Opera, re-cast in a southern town.
In 1961, Simone recorded a version of the traditional song “House of the Rising Sun”, which was then covered by folk-blues artist, Dave Van Ronk, and later recorded by Bob Dylan, where it was picked up by The Animals and became their signature hit. Other songs she is famous for include “I Put a Spell on You” (originally by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins), The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun”, “Four Women”, Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released”, The Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody”, and “Ain’t Got No (I Got Life).” The latter, from the musical Hair, was her debut in the UK charts, reaching No. 2 in 1968, and a remixed version of the recording by Groovefinder was a UK Top 30 hit in 2006.
Broadway musicals also supplied several hits for Simone: “My Baby Just Cares for Me”, “Love Me or Leave Me”, “Feeling Good” and “Ne Me Quitte Pas”. Also “You Can Have Him” on the LP Live at Town Hall recorded when she was 26 years old; at the end of this operatic performance, which displays her great skill as an actress as well as a musician, she whoops with joy. This single recording encapsulates her extraordinary power, wit, flexibility, sensuality and occasional menace.
In 1987, Nina experienced a resurgence in popularity when “My Baby Just Cares for Me”, a track from her first Bethlehem Records album (1958) became a huge hit in the UK and elsewhere. Nina’s versatility as an artist was evident in all her music, which often had a folk-music simplicity.
In a single concert, she moved easily from gospel-inspired tunes to blues and jazz and, in numbers like “For All We Know,” to numbers infused with European classical stylings, and counterpoint fugues.
Throughout most of her career she was accompanied by percussionist Leopoldo Flemming and guitarist and musical director Al Shackman.
In 1971, Simone left the United States following disagreements with her agents, record labels, and the tax authorities, citing racism as the reason. She returned in 1978 and was arrested for tax evasion (she had withheld several years of income tax as a protest against the Vietnam War). She lived in various countries in the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe, continuing to perform into her 60s. In the 1980s, she performed regularly at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London. In 1995, Simone reportedly shot and wounded her neighbour’s son with a pneumatic pistol after his laughing disturbed her concentration [source]
. She also fired at a record company executive whom she accused of stealing royalties (see).
She had a reputation in the music industry for being volatile and sometimes difficult to deal with, a characterization with which Simone strenuously took issue.
Though her onstage style could be somewhat haughty and aloof, in later years, Simone particularly seemed to enjoy engaging her adoring audiences by recounting sometimes humorous anecdotes related to her career and music and soliciting requests. Simone’s regal bearing and commanding stage presence earned her the title the “High Priestess of Soul.”
She received two honorary degrees in music and humanities from the University of Massachusetts and Malcolm X University in Chicago, and preferred to be called “Dr. Nina Simone” after these honors were bestowed upon her. 
Her daughter, an actress/singer known only as Simone, has appeared on Broadway in Aida.
Simone’s autobiography, I Put a Spell on You (ISBN 0-306-80525-1), was published in 1992.
In 1993, she settled near Aix-en-Provence in the south of France. She had been ill with cancer for several years before she died in 2003, aged 70, in her sleep at her home in Carry-le-Rouet.
In the media
Nina Simone’s music has featured in soundtracks of various motion pictures. Her music is frequently used in remixes, commercials and tv series. A lot of artists have covered Nina Simone’s songs (or even her rendition of songs originally sung by other artists).
Soundtracks on which her songs feature are for example those for the movies Point of No Return (1993), The Thomas Crown Affair (1999), The Bourne Identity (2002), The Big Lebowski (1998, featured a cover of Duke Ellington’s “I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good”), Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss (1998, featured “Love Me Or Leave Me”) Shallow Grave (1994), Cellular (2004) and Before Sunset (2004).
“Feeling Good” (from the 1965 album I Put A Spell On You) was used in a Sky Movies advertisement, a 24 promotional advertisement, and in the drama series Six Feet Under (a promo for the 4th season). Several cover versions were made, most notably by British rock band Muse and Michael Bublé. It was sampled in a song by Mary J Blige on her album The Breakthrough (2006).
“Aint’ Got No…I Got Life” (from the 1968 album Nuff Said) has been used in a television advertising campaign in the United Kingdom for Müller Dairy and returned to the UK Top 40 in a remixed version by Groovefinder.
“Sinnerman” (from the 1966 album Pastel Blues) featured in the films The Thomas Crown Affair (1999), Cellular (2004), and Inland Empire (2006), an episode of the tv series Scrubs and on the soundtrack for the videogame Marc Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure. Hip-hop producer Kanye West sampled “Sinnerman” for the Talib Kweli single “Get By”. Recently, a remixed version by Felix da Housecat was used in the soundtrack of the film Miami Vice (2006). It was also covered by 16 Horsepower.
Various songs featured in the film Point Of No Return (1993), a remake of La Femme Nikita (1990) by Luc Besson. The main character, played by Bridget Fonda, listens to Nina Simone on headphones during a drug-crazed robbery and asks for Nina albums while “imprisoned”. Songs that featured on the soundtrack were: “Here Comes The Sun”, “I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl”, “Feeling Good”, “Wild Is the Wind”, “Black Is The Color Of My True Love’s Hair”.
The song “I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to Be Free” features on the soundtrack of the UK drama series, “Life on Mars”
In their song “God Bless Our Dead Marines,” Canadian band A Silver Mt. Zion sang, “who among us will avenge Ms. Nina Simone?”
On her new album, Canadian singer/songwriter Feist covers Nina Simone’s “See Line Woman” in the song “Sea Lion Woman.” The song also includes a sample of Simone’s version of the song.