Nina Simone is one of the most influential and iconic music artists of the 20th century. Her musical work spans multiple genres, including jazz, blues, pop, R&B, folk, gospel, and classical among others.
Besides her illustrious and eminent music career, Simone is also known for her involvement in the civil rights movement during the 1960s and beyond.
Simone‘s timeless music and civil rights activism made her the legend she is today. And in her honor, we are going to take a look at some of the most interesting facts about Nina Simone from her fascinating life.
10 Interesting Facts About Nina Simone
10. Her real name isn’t Nina Simone
Like many artists, she used a stage name. Nina Simone was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina on February 21, 1933.
However, the reason for her name change was not primarily an artistic decision, and there is a darker background to it. Namely, after getting her first piano gig in a nightclub, Eunice wanted to hide her identity from religious family members who thought she played “the devil’s music”.
“Nina” was a nickname given to her by her boyfriend at the time, while “Simone” was inspired by the French actress Simone Signoret.
9. Prolific artist
During her five-decade long career, she released 72 singles/EP’s, and 33 albums, including 19 studio albums and 14 live albums. Her record labels also released numerous compilation albums during her lifetime and posthumously.
Simone‘s first studio album “Little Girl Blue” came out in 1959 while her last “A Single Woman” in 1993. And when it comes to singles, her debut was “I Loves You, Porgy” in 1959, and the last single was her well-known rendition of “Feeling Good” that was re-released in 1994.
8. Never had a No.1 record
Despite her fame and extensive catalog, Nina Simone never topped the charts.
Her best chart-album during her lifetime was the 1965 studio release “Pastel Blues” which peaked at No.8 on the US R&B LPs chart. While on the popular albums chart (Billboard 200) her best result was No.99 with “I Put a Spell on You”.
Unlike her albums, Simone‘s singles had more success on the charts from the get-go. Namely, her debut single ‘I Loves You, Porgy” peaked at No.2 on the Hot R&B Songs chart and reached No.18 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Her last American hit was “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” (R&B No.8).
Nina‘s records were also quite popular in the United Kingdom where she scored four Top 5 singles and one Top 10 album.
7. Her 1964 hit was banned from several radio stations
Another interesting fact about Nina Simone is that her 1964 protest song “Mississippi Goddam” which became an anthem during the Civil Rights Movement, was banned from several radio stations, mainly in the Southern states.
In 2019, the song was added in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
6. Denied from the Curtis Institute of Music
After graduating from high school in 1950, Nina applied for a scholarship in the elite private college the Curtis Institute of Music. Due to the extremely competitive admission and low acceptance rate, Simone spent her whole summer preparing for an audition at the college. She received piano lessons from the German pianist Carl Friedberg at the Juilliard School.
Only 3 out of 72 applicants were accepted by the conservatory and unfortunately she wasn’t among the lucky ones. Later in her life, Nina Simone stated that she was rejected due to the color of her skin.
5. She worked as a photographer’s assistant
This not so fun Nina Simone fact happened during a difficult period in the singer’s life.
The rejection of a scholarship by the Curtis Institute of Music dealt a severe blow to Nina’s musical aspirations, especially since her entire family had then moved to Philadelphia to support her career. The devastating news forced the jazz icon to pursue other jobs.
Her first job was working as a photographer’s assistant. However, Simone never gave up on her dreams and continued to pursue music by giving piano lessons from her home and also working as an accompanist at a local vocal studio.
4. Recipient of three honorary degrees
After being rejected by Curtis and joining the workforce, Simone never had the chance to get her degree. But this did not stop her from getting a PhD, albeit honorary. She received two honorary degrees from the Malcom X College and Amherst College in music and humanities, and loved to be called Dr. Nina Simone.
The third and most shocking one was bestowed on her by the Curtis Institute of Music just two days before her death. As the saying goes – “He who laughs last, laughs best”.
3. She was dubbed the “High Priestess of Soul”
Nina Simone wasn’t an ordinary artist. Not only because of her music, outspokenness, and battle for social justice, but also for her unparalleled stage presence.
Her live shows were unlike any other as she loved to incorporate monologs and dialogs with the audience that made Simone stand out. Nina’s antics on and off the stage earned her the title “High Priestess of Soul”.
2. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder
Nina‘s turbulent and certainly eventful life can be attributed to some extent to her mental health. Her temper and outbursts of aggression followed the singer throughout her life. However, it wasn’t until the late 1980s, precisely in the spring of 1988 that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder during her stay in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
The tantrums had a major impact on Simone‘s life to the point where she was facing a prison sentence. Because of this, she was an unpredictable performer and was notorious for stopping her shows and walking offstage during her episodes.
1. Fired a gun at her record label executive
When it comes to Nina Simone facts, it’s impossible to make a list without mentioning one of the craziest moments in the singer’s life.
In 1985, she was under the impression that her record label executive was stealing her hard-earned royalties. And as a person with undiagnosed bipolar disorder, Simone decided to take matters into her own hands and fired a gun at the record label executive with the intent to kill him. Luckily she missed
Ten years later during her stay in France, Nina Simone also fired a gun at another person and this time she didn’t miss. Apparently her neighbor’s kid was loud and disturbed her while she was composing, so she shot and wounded the boy with an air gun.
Simone was sentenced to eight months in prison for her outburst, but she never served jail time after a psychiatric evaluation and treatment.
Nina Simone was an influential American singer, pianist, songwriter, composer, and civil rights activist.
She was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon on February 21, 1933 in Tryon, North Carolina as the sixth of eight children in a poor family. Her father John worked as a barber and dry-cleaner, while her mother Mary Kate Irvin was a Methodist preacher.
Simone was known for being a staunch civil rights activist, but few people know that her undying desire for justice was born the day she performed at her local church, aged 12, when her parents were forced to move from the front row to the back of the hall because of the color of their skin. She then refused to perform until her parents were returned to the front seats.
In her early 20s, Nina performed at a nightclub in Atlantic City in order to fund her private piano lessons. She had to adopt a stage name to disguise herself from her family who didn’t want her to play that kind of music.
Nina Simone signed her first contract with a record label in the late 1950s when she also released her debut album and single. She then went on to record and perform for five more successful decades.
Simone married twice in her life and gave birth to one child – her daughter Lisa Simone who followed in her mother’s footsteps and became a singer and composer.
She has received numerous awards and accolades, including the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2000. What’s interesting is that she wasn’t inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame until 2018 – fifteen years after her death and thirty-four (34) years after she was eligible for induction!
That was it for the Nina Simone facts, hopefully we didn’t miss anything interesting from her fascinating life!