Simone Kelly: ‘Mommy has come home’

Published 7:59 pm Monday, February 22, 2010

(Video and photo gallery included with this story)

Trade Street in Tryon was closed Sunday afternoon as over 500 people gathered around the new Nina Simone Plaza to witness the dedication of a bronze statue honoring Tryons native super star.
Simones daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, was on hand as were many members of the Waymon family, including Simones sisters and brothers, and the sculptor, Zenos Frudakis of Philadelphia.
Simone, born Eunice Waymon, would have been 77 Sunday. She passed away April 21, 2003.
“I noticed that when it was mentioned that my mother refused to play, when she was ten years old, until her parents were re-seated in the front row (at the Lanier Library) everyone here clapped,” Lisa Simone Kelly said. “That was not the reaction she got (in 1943). It is better late than never. Mommy has come home.”
Tryon Mayor Alan Peoples recalled such incidents in his remarks.
“Main Street is pretty much as it was then,” Peoples said, sweeping his hand over the scene, “There are the railroad tracks she crossed every day and up there, the Lanier Library.” Peoples recalled how, in 2003, he saw a group of tourists, obviously lost. He approached them to help and found that they were Italians who had come to Tryon looking for the birthplace of Nina Simone.
“They were disappointed when I showed them the house where Nina was born, and there was nothing more here to honor her,” Peoples said. “Unfortunately, there are many injustices in this world. Today we are here to set one straight. Welcome home Nina.”
Simones ashes are actually encapsulated in a bronze heart inside the statue.
Tryons own Cathy Smith Bowers, the N.C. Poet Laureate, read Kwame Dawes poem, “What Do they Call You?” honoring the rise of a strong, Southern girl, and a member of U.S. Rep. Heath Shulers staff read the congressmans statements, made on the floor of the House, noting the occasion of the Simone Plaza dedication.
The sculptor, Zenos Frudakis, stood to thank Crys Armbrust, the executive director of the Eunice Waymon/ Nina Simone Memorial Project.
It was one of several congratulations given to Armbrust, who conceived of the memorial project and worked almost single-handedly to bring it off. At a memorial concert following the dedication, master of ceremonies Pam Stone said Armbrust was, “The little snowball that got this whole thing rolling.”
Lisa Simone Kelly called Armbrust, “the brother I never had.”
“You would have thought Mom gave birth to him too, all hes done on her behalf,” she said.
Dr. Warren Carson offered an invocation before closing the ceremonies on Trade Street. Looking out at an audience white and black, he said, “This is a marvelous opportunity for us to come together.”
After that, children released a few dozen white doves, who swooped up and out of the crowded scene and then circled overhead awhile.
The crowd then reassembled at Polk County High School, where Armbrust welcomed everyone to continue the celebration of, “a local daughter who done good.”
The Polk County High School Percussion Ensemble began a series of musical performances. Working under the direction of band leader Cindy Gilbert, the ensemble featured soloists Hunter Patterson, Clayton Carey, and Ben Stockdale.
Simones music was also performed by Jennifer Prince, Jim Peterman, Daryle Ryce, and David Nathan, a London native who, at the age of 16, set up the UKs first Nina Simone Appreciation Society.
“I first heard of Nina when I was a skinny teen in London,” Nathan said, “I heard Dionne Warwick mention Nina as one of her inspirations and I went to a record store and took the album, “Nina Simone at Town Hall,” into the listening booth. The first time I heard her voice, I started to cry. I met her in London with Lisa, who was four at the time. People would see Nina as stern, but she had a smile to light up the sky.”
Stephen Marley, son of Bob Marley, was also scheduled to perform but was unable to attend.
The 2009 Nina Simone Project Scholar Andrew Fletcher, history major at UNC-Asheville, read a letter from President Bill Clinton on the occasion of the Nina Simone memorial dedication.
Lisa Simone Kelly made some more remarks, before performing her mothers arrangement of “Nobodys Fault but Mine.”
“I have visited Africa. Everyone there knows their home, their relatives going back. That is not something we have known,” she said, nodding with members of the audience. “This is your village, Mom. It has been a long time since Mom crossed the railroad tracks to get her piano lessons. Who would have known then her statue would be in the center of town?”

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