Listen to Nina Simone!

Published 9:39 am Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Here at the Modern Age, I write about music a lot. Usually, it&squo;s just at the bottom of the column in the little &dquo;Hot Jam of the Week&dquo; section, and I generally just make a joke about some terrible, terrible hip-hop song that nobody above the age of 24 would be able to stomach without assaulting a small animal. But this week, I&squo;m going to write about some actual (and by &dquo;actual,&dquo; I mean music that all of my readers can listen to without clawing their own eyes out) music by an artist with great relevance to our town: Nina Simone.

Eunice Waymon was born in Tryon in 1933 to Mary Kate Waymon and John Waymon, and as a child displayed a natural ability to play the piano, starting at the age of four. As a child she played organ for St. Luke&squo;s C.M.E. church, and when it came time for her to receive more musical education than our little town could offer, the &dquo;Eunice Waymon Fund&dquo; was set up by Tryon residents to pay for her education at the Juilliard School of Music.

After playing her unique mix of classical piano, jazz and blues in Philadelphia, Eunice ‐ now performing under the name &dquo;Nina Simone,&dquo; recorded her first album in 1957, and after its 1958 release saw her star rapidly rise. Nina released albums at a relentless pace, gradually moving in style from smooth, pure jazz to more of a folk sound, picking up a socially conscious, equality-seeking lyrics on the way. Later in life, Simone worked tirelessly for civil rights and in 1993 released her last album. She died in 2003.

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Which is where my perspective kicks in. Until my parents told me that she had died and that she was a famous singer, I had never heard of Nina Simone. My mom told me that Simone was an amazing singer. However, because I was at the age where I didn&squo;t trust a word that my parents said, I didn&squo;t listen to her. My Simone-based ignorance changed this summer, when I interned at my dad&squo;s office (read:&bsp; I was bored a lot), and so I listened to a lot of new music.

I then discovered for myself the majesty of Simone&squo;s voice and her brilliant piano playing that won her audience over in the first place. Simone was in that rarefied class of musician where she could take even a renowned song by a well-established artist and make it her own.&bsp; Examples I can think of off the top of my head include her interpretation of The Beatles&squo; &dquo;Here Comes the Sun&dquo;‐ which in Nina&squo;s capable hands sounds the way a tranquil morning walk through nature looks and feels‐and a bluesy, gospel-inspired cover of Bob Dylan&squo;s &dquo;I Shall Be Released&dquo; which evokes the religious imagery and message of hope that Dylan&squo;s version could barely hope to touch on.

My personal favorite song of Simone&squo;s is &dquo;In the Morning,&dquo; a tune that I assumed was by her, but was in fact a cover of a Bee Gees song. I had no idea until about five minutes ago when I googled it. This isn&squo;t to put down Nina&squo;s original songs, which are brilliant in her own right; it&squo;s just a testament to her singing ability and her virtuosity at the piano. Originals such as &dquo;Do I Move You&dquo; and &dquo;Come Ye&dquo; stack up right alongside her covers as brilliant compositions.

Nina Simone was one of the greatest artists of the 20th century and we should be exceedingly proud of the fact that she came from Tryon, N.C. Tryon helped mold her, and helped fund her future learning, and&bsp; for that, we should be proud.

So what now? Well, consider contributing to the Eunice Waymon-Nina Simone Memorial Project, based in Tryon and dedicated to the preservation of Ms. Simone&squo;s memory and work.

They have currently commissioned sculptor Zenos Frudakis to create a bronze sculpture of Simone, and they are trying to have a Nina Simone Music Festival in Tryon, but they need your help. They are now taking donations to help them reach
their goal of being able to hold the festival in October of 2009.

A very special Hot Jam of the Week: &dquo;Ain&squo;t Got No/I Got Life (Groovefinder remix)&dquo; by Nina Simone ‐ if you&squo;re a teenager looking for a good place to start listening to Nina Simone, this is a good place to start. It&squo;s a recent remix of her 1968 hit that re-imagines Simone as the lead singer to an otherworldly funk band.

One time I was listening to it on my iPod and it made me spontaneously dance in public, the sight of which led a girl on whom I had a crush to purposely avoid me for several weeks.

Sidebar: To donate, send a check to &dquo;Waymon-Simone/TDDA&dquo; at TDDA, PO Box 182, Tryon, NC 28782. Please note where you would like your donation to be applied: Nina Simone Sculpture, Eunice Waymon Scholarship, Nina Simone Music Festival, Administrative Operations, or Open Gift. The project&squo;s website is