|Nina Simone Dies At 70|
Jazz Great Nina Simone Dies at 70
Tue Apr 22, 1:17 PM ET
By NEKESA MUMBI MOODY, AP Music Writer
NEW YORK - Like her husky, soulful voice, Nina Simone (news) was hard to categorize.
She was a classically trained pianist, yet gained fame singing in a style reminiscent of Billie Holiday (news). She later became known as a protest singer for penning fiery songs that chronicled the pain, pride and hope of the U.S. civil rights movement.
Yet she refused to be restricted in the kind of material she performed, and channeled songs from artists as varied as Rodgers and Hart, Kurt Weill and the Bee Gees.
"She had incredible talent," said friend and jazz concert promoter George Wein. "She was different and creative, and there must have been a touch of genius in her mind."
"There was never anyone like Nina Simone, before or since," he said.
The multifaceted entertainer died at her home in the south of France on Monday at age 70. Her manager, Cliff Henderson, who was at Simone's bedside at her death, said she died of "natural causes" in her sleep after a long illness. He did not disclose the illness or provide the name of the town where she lived.
Simone influenced artists including Norah Jones (news), India.Arie, Peter Gabriel (news), Sade and Aretha Franklin (news). Franklin even rerecorded one of Simone's most famous songs, "To Be Young, Gifted and Black."
Jones, the Grammy-winning pop-jazz singer, told The Associated Press on Tuesday: "She did so many different kinds of things. She's classified as a jazz singer, but ... she sang these sort of R&B blues songs that were so great, and then she'd turn around and do this Randy Newman (news) song.
"Everything she played she made it so completely her own."
"I think she's probably one of the greatest black female singers of all time," said Rob Santos, and executive with BMG Heritage, which is putting out an anthology of Simone's this summer. "Nina Simone is hard to peg because she crosses so many boundaries ... anything you gave her she could sing."
Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in 1933 in North Carolina, Simone was one of eight children in a poor family. She began playing the piano at age 4 and was classically trained, attending the Juilliard School in New York for one year. She had hoped to attend the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, but was rejected ? one of many disappointments she would attribute to racism.
She turned to singing jazz and popular music as a way to make money, performing in nightclubs. In the late 1950s Simone started recording songs, and gained fame in 1959 with her recording of "I Loves You Porgy," from the opera "Porgy & Bess."
Simone later wove the turbulent 1960s into her music. In 1963, after the church bombing that killed four young black girls in Birmingham, Ala., and the slaying of Medgar Evers, she wrote "Mississippi Goddam," with searing lyrics that included the lines: "Oh but this whole country is full of lies, You're all gonna die and die like flies."
"She had incredible guts, which I think that's why she never had the mass appeal that she should have had," said Santos. "She really was her own person, and she definitely didn't hold back."
After the killing of The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., she recorded "Why? The King of Love Is Dead."
"That's what separated Nina from the other singers," Wein said. "Nina took civil rights and the movement, the fight to another level, and made it part of her persona."
She left the United States in 1973 and lived in the Caribbean and Africa before settling in Europe. She didn't return to the United States until 1985 for a series of concerts.
In a 1998 interview, Simone blamed racism in the United States for her decision to live abroad, saying that as a black person, she had "paid a heavy price for fighting the establishment."
Wein said she was extremely bitter.
"She was a black woman who never could relate to the position of what it was to be black in America. She couldn't understand it," he said. "She was an unhappy person."
Simone enjoyed perhaps her greatest success in the 1960s and '70s, with songs such as "I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl" and "Four Women." She took risks with her song choices, covering a range of popular tunes. She growled in "The Pirate Jenny" from "Threepenny Opera" and breezed through "New World Coming" and "My Way," turning both songs into anthems of the 1970s.
Folk and blues blended with tunes like "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair," and her jazz colorings on "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" emphasized not only her keyboard manipulations but her ability to perform any song Simone-style.
In her last years, she remained a concert draw, though she was frail; at a 2001 concert at Carnegie Hall, she needed help to her piano, and was later seen sitting backstage in a wheelchair.
Yet, with an indelible mix of charm, whimsy and rage, she managed to work the crowd into a frenzy, commanding several standing ovations and a raucous demand for an encore, to which she tottered to the microphone and uttered: "Go Home!"
Simone, who was divorced twice, is survived by a daughter, Lisa ? a singer who goes by Simone. She's starring in Broadway's "Aida" and has recorded with the group Liquid Soul.
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