Nina Simone (1933–2003)
Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina, Simone showed prodigious ability as a pianist from an early age.
Her experiences with racism, however, dissuaded her from following a purely classical path: at Simone’s first solo recital, at the age of 10, her parents were removed from the front row of the audience to allow a white couple to sit down; at the age of 18, she was rejected by the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music at Philadelphia due to her colour.
Simone financed her further education by working as a bar singer-pianist; it was at one that she was noticed by a record label, recording her first album in 1957.
Her music, fusing classical piano, jazz and protest song in Simone’s unique rough-edged voice, became a signature of the Civil Rights movement; several of her works, particularly Mississippi Goddam, To Be Young, Gifted And Black and Four Women played pivotal roles in motivating people to follow Martin Luther King’s ideals, and rank as some of the most powerfully political songs ever written.