Lisa Kelly Simone sharing the light of her legacy
Published 3:01 am Friday, March 27, 2009
I&squo;ve heard you answer a lot of questions today. One that stood out was when the student asked about your favorite moment with your mom. You said it was being introduced by her to sing on stage. What was it like growing up with a superstar? Lisa: It was many things. What I realized, when people ask me a lot of questions about my life it also forces me to reflect on certain things that I don&squo;t normally think about. It was okay, it was normal for me. That was my mommy and I didn&squo;t even realize that she was famous until I was around 10 or 11 years old and she had a different name. We traveled a lot and my mother was very temperamental. Every time she sat down at the piano all I remember was just perfection. It was always beautiful to watch her fingers move, to hear what came out of it, and to sit next to her. It was many things. Now that I&squo;m following so closely in her footsteps and have embraced my legacy, embraced everything that goes along with that, the more that I&squo;m on this journey of self discovery and self acceptance, the more grounded I become and the more that I understand her and myself. When that child asked me that, the fact that I would share one of the happiest moments in my life with the world as the first cut on my CD is indicative of how far I&squo;ve come and what wonderful moment that was. You mentioned as a teenager you went off to the military because you thought you knew everything. Was that a moment of rebellion? Lisa Kelly Simone with her mother, Nina Simone. (photo submitted) Yes, I call it active rebellion. I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to major in English. I actually combined my last year of high school with my first year of college so that I could accelerate my dreams. I wanted to go to college in San Diego. My uncle Carrol Waymon actually was a professor of psychology there and he offered me to come there. I also asked my dad and everybody if they would help me fill out the application paperwork for Alfred University as a plan B just in case San Diego didn&squo;t work out. All my elders were like, &dquo;No, San Diego&squo;s going to be fine, it&squo;s going to work out.&dquo; Well there was one clincher. After I graduated and was halfway through the summer my uncle had yet to send me an application and I knew that there was no way I would be able to get in for that semester. I realized I had to have a fall back. The Air Force wound up being that. I still don&squo;t recall how the Air Force became an option in my life, but it did. I wound up going into a career field that had nothing to do with law, had nothing to do with what I had been planning for all those years. I realize now that I kind of was sleep walking for a while as I had to learn about drafting and surveying and quality assurance. It was like moving to another planet. At what point did you decide that you had to come back to the music and to your mother&squo;s music? Lisa Simone Kelly Well that&squo;s two different parts in my life. I rediscovered singing when I was active duty in Germany. I tell everyone, I had the notorious glass of wine. A girlfriend of mine was an American black woman who had her own hair salon in Frankfurt, Germany. She was a civilian and a lot of us got our hair done there. She and I were hanging out one night. We went to a bistro and I had a glass of wine and this guy was playing the piano in the bistro. He was also an African American and the way he patted his foot, he did his whole foot up and down, reminded me of the south, of somebody in church. I don&squo;t know what inspired me to do so, but he must have been singing a song that I liked because I got up and I started singing with him. Next thing you know, I say within a week or two, I got a phone call from a woman who I didn&squo;t know asking me if I wanted to be one of her background singers. I remember saying, &dquo;Who are you and how did you get my number?&dquo; Come to find out that my girlfriend, who&squo;s name was Janine, she had been raving about my singing in the salon. This lady&squo;s name was Joan Faulkner and she had her own act and she would go around Europe singing. She needed a background singer and apparently whatever Janine said inspired her to call me. Janine gave her my number. I was like, &dquo;What the heck, I can harmonize, I can do that.&dquo; That is how this all began. Musicians who played for her started to ask me if I was interested in doing my own shows, which I&squo;d never considered. My first show ever by myself was at a ski resort in Switzerland. I was twenty eight. I didn&squo;t like my job. I couldn&squo;t see myself doing it for the rest of my life and it was almost as if I&squo;d gotten to a point in my life where I said, &dquo;What do I want to really do when I grow up?&dquo; It&squo;s interesting because I went right back to something that had been in my face all my life. I said to myself, &dquo;If I can go to this ski resort and do what I think I can do, maybe this is what I should be doing for the rest of my life.&dquo; Apparently it worked, because I&squo;m here right now. It seems to have worked very well. Then what brought you to your mom&squo;s music? Actually, it was after she passed and when we were trying to figure out about two years ago how to best to put together a project that would showcase me and get us the type of attention, for lack of a better word, that we were hoping to get. We threw around some ideas. Of course I&squo;ve been writing music for about seventeen years, my own songs, and so I automatically took for granted that of course it would be my own songs. It didn&squo;t happen that way. I was approached about a big band project. It&squo;s interesting when the stars line up how everything just is easy and falls into place. I live in Pennsylvania right now and there just happened to be an eighteen piece big band in Pennsylvania that were ready to work and wanted to work with me. I was gifted by my mother over fifty of her big band arrangements. I happened to have the albums that went along with a lot of my favorite songs. I had another glass of wine and after that glass of wine it only took me forty five minutes to pick out eleven songs, match them up to the albums, and say this is the album. The name Simone on Simone had actually come up about eleven years ago when I was living in Chicago and it always stuck with me. It just made perfect sense. Next thing you know, we recorded everything in three days. It&squo;s interesting though, when we make decisions in our lives, when we pick a certain path in our lives it&squo;s for one reason, and as we go down that path so many other things are revealed to us. This has been a journey of discovery and self acceptance. I turned around to embrace my legacy. Many reporters have asked me, &dquo;Most kids who are &squo;daughters and sons of&squo; run away from that and try to be autonomous and separate themselves from their legacy. You on the other hand have turned and embraced it.&dquo; I&squo;ve told them I&squo;m very secure in who I am and where I come from. You can only run for so long. At some point you do have to turn around and face who you are, where you come from, and pass that on to your children. I&squo;m so happy that the making of Simone on Simone has helped me to become so much more grounded and celebrate my legacy. Wonderful. Thank you. In terms of your mom&squo;s legacy, part of her legacy was during the 60&squo;s and she was very active and vocal about civil rights. It turned some heads in Tryon. I&squo;ll say. How does it feel to know that there are people trying to commemorate your mother through the sculpture and the scholarship fund at this point in Tryon? Welcoming Lisa Simone &husband Rob (photo by Mara Smith)&bsp;It feels wonderful. She deserves it and so much more. My mother died alone. She died afraid that if she couldn&squo;t sing anymore, what was she going to do to
support herself? She had no idea how much she was loved and adored and how much her music has promoted healing. I&squo;ve had so many people tell me how much her music has helped them to heal in different aspects of their lives. Even former president Bill Clinton has referred to, &dquo;I wish I knew how it would feel to be free&dquo; and how it helped him in many moments in his tenure as our president. It feels wonderful. What I choose to say to people is, &dquo;Let&squo;s not wait until they&squo;ve passed away for them to know how much they are loved and adored by us.&dquo; When they move on to the other side it really isn&squo;t that important to them anymore. I wish she was here to see this, to experience this. But I&squo;m here, my daughter&squo;s here and we are very, very pleased. That&squo;s not even an adequate word. I&squo;m still trying to find the proper words to convey how I feel about all of the love and adoration that poured forth with regards to my mom, her memory, her message, and everything she left with us. You mentioned you went to school over in Spindale and Rutherfordton. What do Tryon and its surrounding area mean to you? It&squo;s interesting because I started writing my blog for my facebook and my myspace last night. My computer doesn&squo;t work very well where we are, so I put it on notebook paper last night. I did mention that because I travelled so much, went to school in so many places, and my mom wasn&squo;t around a lot, that my time in North Carolina was as close to as close to a normal childhood as I ever got a chance to live. Then again what&squo;s normal? I learned how to fry chicken here. I learned my 23rd psalm here. I was in the choir here. I learned Precious Lord here. I could just be a kid and I didn&squo;t have to worry so much about where am I going to be next week, what school am I going to, or am I going to leave my friends? Things that are important to a child were met here. Actually, after leaving the elementary school today I think, I&squo;m going to pray on this, my heart is singing because I think I&squo;m going to bring my daughter here to go to fifth grade this year. In which case, I&squo;ll be here. It&squo;s about home. Like I told the kids earlier, a foundation, knowing who you are and where you come from, why your parents came here, and their background. That&squo;s the foundation upon which you can fly. I&squo;m a very integral part of my daughter&squo;s life and coming here to her ancestors home feels right. If she&squo;s here, you better know I&squo;m going to be right here. Your mom felt she had to leave this area in order to be who she was, and never really came back to those roots. What do you think she would say about you thinking about moving here to raise your daughter? Rob, Crys Armbrust, Tom &Sylvia Moore with Lisa Simone (photo by Mara Smith) She&squo;s most pleased. My mother&squo;s always with me. Now that she&squo;s not concentrating so much on things outside of herself, she exists in pure love. I know that she doesn&squo;t want me to cry anymore. She wants me to be more in touch with my family, my roots, and this journey that I&squo;m on. It doesn&squo;t stop with me, it continues with my child and their children. My children actually, my daughter&squo;s the youngest, she&squo;s the only one left at home. Hopefully, I will have started a precedent within our family whereby your foundation, roots, and ancestry remains quite important. Once you get to a certain point as a grown up, I don&squo;t think you can get much further if you don&squo;t know who you are and where you come from. I&squo;m living witness to that. At the age of 46 I&squo;m happier than I&squo;ve ever been. A lot has to do with what I&squo;ve chosen to do with my family and my legacy. Forgiveness, healing, and growth, maybe I can pass that along to a lot of the young people so they won&squo;t have as many hurdles to overcome as we did. I really enjoyed listening to you talk to those kids today. You had some straight up, kind, and wonderful answers to their questions. I felt inspired just by listening to you answer kids&squo; questions. I&squo;m glad. I have something I&squo;ll share with you. When I asked God, when I was stationed in Germany, I prayed. I kid you not, because &dquo;superstar&dquo; is a moniker everybody uses now. At the end of the 80&squo;s I prayed to be a superstar, literally. God answers prayer. It might take you a hundred years to get there, but he answers prayer. I have always felt that I wasn&squo;t that specific and that he took me a circuitous route through theatre and this and that. I prayed to be a superstar and I asked God to help me to inspire love and positivity in others through the example of my own life. When you said I inspired, thank you for that because that means that I&squo;m doing my job. I wish there were more superstars out there that were that focused in their intention about what they&squo;re doing for the people they are performing for and sharing their time with. Maybe I can help to set a new precedent. You know it&squo;s not all about just getting up there and being cute and shaking your butt and singing something you&squo;re not connected to. It&squo;s a type a ministry, and that is how I look at my singing. My eldest son, who you will get to meet is a reverend, and I told him, &dquo;You&squo;re carrying on the legacy of the pulpit and I&squo;m carrying on the musical side. We&squo;ve got it going on!&dquo; It just makes him glow all over because he really doesn&squo;t know that much about the family&squo;s legacy. I look forward to bringing my kids here so they can dig their heels into the red dirt and soak up who they are and know that they are indeed carrying on that calling that&squo;s in their heart. It&squo;s actually something that&squo;s in their blood. Yes, hopefully I can establish a new precedent for other entertainers to take what they do a little more seriously. What projects do you currently have in the works? I just came out of the studio at the end of February. In ten days we laid down seven tracks and one of them is &dquo;Young Gifted and Black&dquo; that I&squo;m redoing. The CD will be anywhere from 12-14 songs, so I go back in July to continue laying down those tracks so I&squo;m way ahead of the curve. It&squo;s due to come out in January. My daughter who&squo;s nine has joined me in the studio. She&squo;s doing backgrounds and she&squo;s a D.I.T., a Diva in Training. She comes on stage with me. She actually fronted a 19 piece big band in August. I&squo;m teaching her about mic control and all that stuff. All this is in the works and my husband and I have a lot of other international things going on. In terms of my career the next project is the CD I&squo;m working on now as I continue to tour and promote Simone on Simone. Wonderful! I hope you do make this your home so we get to see you occasionally. Me too! I&squo;m about to learn how to make those buttermilk biscuits before I leave. Miss Bernice has some tricks. My cousin Robin Thomas, before she passed away she lived in Spindale and she told me about applesauce or mayonnaise in the cornbread. I&squo;m going to learn how to do the mayonnaise from Miss Bernice. I travel with my cast iron pans everywhere I go. I&squo;m looking forward to coming back. In coming here I&squo;m kind of surprised that I feel as at home as I do here and I thank everyone here for welcoming my husband and I as wonderfully as you have and making us feel part of the community. We do look forward to coming back.