Yesterday marked what would be the 80th birthday of legendary singer Nina Simone.  Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon, Nina Simone’s music was a soundtrack of civil rights. She was a student at Julliard until she ran out of money. She was later rejected by Curtis Institute of Music because she was black. Despite the odds, Nina Simone recorded her first album in 1958 and her top 40 hit  “I Loves You Porgy” from Porgy and Bess.

Called the “High Priestess of Soul,” Nina Simone created songs that spoke to the conditions of the civil rights movement. In 1963, she released “Mississippi Goddam” in response to the assassination of activist Medgar Evers and the bombing of 16th street Baptist Church that killed four little girls and injured a fifth. When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed in 1968, Simone released “Why (The King of Love Is Dead).”

Simone’s music was presented with deep-rooted meaning. Her 1970 song “Young, Gifted and Black” for her late friend Loarraine Hansberry became a black power anthem. She became worn on America’s struggle for equality and moved to several countries, including Liberia, Switzerland, England, before settling in the South of France. She was also in constant conflict with her own life as it pertained to personal finances and business management.

Nina Simone issued a series of re-made cover hits throughout the 1970’s, including the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.” By the 1980’s, she had made international commercial hits like “My Baby Just Cares For Me.” In the 1990’s Simone brought her music back the states, with a loved reception by critics.

Nina Simone passed away on April 21, 2003, at her home in Carry-le-Rouet, France. Her cause of death is unknown, while some speculate that it was breast cancer.

The legacy of Nina Simone lives in her autobiography, I Put a Spell on You (1992). Her daughter Lisa, also a performer, has presented tribute to her mother through her own stage performances. The Broadway actress even uses the stage name Simone.

Most recently, songstress Meshell Ndegeocello has re-released Simone’s song “Black Is the Colour (Of My True Love’s Hair)” in honor of the singer’s 80th birthday.

Controversy surrounded the casting of a Nina Simone biopic when actress Zoe Saldana was cast for the lead. The uproar was regarding Saldana’s light complexion versus Simone’s darker skin tone. Regardless of opinion, Saldana will star as Simone along with Mike Epps and David Oyelowo in a 2013 production by Cynthia Mort.

(Photo: Retna)

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