Coming home 77 years later
Published 5:38 pm Friday, February 19, 2010
Nina Simones life and legacy will be celebrated in her birthplace at 3 p.m. this Sunday on what would have been her 77th birthday.
Tryon will dedicate a life-size bronze of Simone to be placed on South Trade Street, across from the Upstairs Gallery. The statue was sculpted and cast by well-known sculptor Zenos Frudakis.
A concert will follow the dedication at Polk County High School featuring local, regional and national personalities.
In attendance will be Lisa Simone Kelly Nina Simones daughter and singer/producer Stephen Marley, a Jamaican American musician and the son of reggae legend Bob Marley.
Special recognitions have been prepared by U.S. Representative Heath Shuler and former President William Jefferson Clinton.
The days events are sanctioned by the National Park Service as a Blue Ridge Parkway 75th anniversary heritage event.
Nina Simones life began in Tryon in 1933 amid the Great Depression. Tryon was then a small, Western North Carolina tourist town which, despite its reputation as a recreational retreat for the rich and famous, had not yet celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Like many other luminaries in popular music, Tryons High Priestess of Soul had her earliest training in the church. In Simones (nee Eunice Waymon) instance, St. Lukes CME Church holds that distinction. Eunice Waymons playing quickly came to the notice of others in her community, who with singular purpose stepped forward to nurture Waymons prodigious talent.
Under the patronage of Muriel Mazzanovich, Katherine Miller and Esther Lane Borg, Waymon blossomed. Further studies with Julliards Carl Friedberg and Curtis Music Institutes Vladimir Sokoloff honed Waymons talent and centered her musical lineage firmly in the German Romanticism of Clara Schuman and Johannes Brahms, Waymons teachers teachers.
A dream of becoming Americas first black female classical concert pianist never materialized for Eunice Waymon. That was, in retrospect, perhaps fortuitous, since unforeseen new opportunities destined the young Southern chanteuse for international fame in a global theatre.
Eunice Waymons professional career, as Nina Simone, began in 1954. Thereafter, Simone signed with King Records. In 1957 she recorded her first album, Little Girl Blue, which caused a sensation among listeners. She would go on to record nearly 50 more albums before her death in 2003.
Nina Simones appeal crosses generations; her personal musical style merges a strong classical training with an exceptional range of musical genres, running the gamut from classical, gospel and jazz to pop, folk and Broadway song. Unique and original by any definition, Simones musical cross-over defies categorization, a difficulty especially problematic to the marketing side of the recording industry.
To many people, Nina Simone was a jazz singer, a blues singer, or a pop singer. She was each of these and more. She referred to herself as a folk singer and her music as Black classical music.
Simone asserted a powerful influence on mid-to-late-twentieth-century American popular culture both in music and civil rights activism. The fiery rhetoric of her protest songs set the tone for the civil struggles of a nation. With equal alacrity, the emotional depth of her love songs belied the underlying conflict of her personal demons, including a secreted, career-long struggle with bi-polar disorder.
The artistry of Simone yet continues to inspire. She was and remains a powerful force, whose music finds champions in such legendary icons as Elton John and Alicia Keys.
The Philadelphia-based Frudakis created his eight-foot bronze of Simone for a public arts installation commissioned by the Tryon-based Eunice Waymon-Nina Simone Memorial Project. The sculpture, cast by Laran Foundry in Chester, PA, is the focal point of the newly-constructed Nina Simone Plaza situated in Tryons central downtown district along the North Carolina Scenic Byway. Simones journey, at long last, will end where it began in the place of her birth.
The author, Crys Armbrust, Ph.D., is Executive Director of the Eunice Waymon-Nina Simone Memorial Project. For further information, see www.ninasimoneproject.org.