Princess Noire: The Tumultuous Reign of Nina Simone

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9780807872437: Princess Noire: The Tumultuous Reign of Nina Simone

Born Eunice Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina, Nina Simone (1933-2003) began her musical life playing classical piano. A child prodigy, she wanted a career on the concert stage, but when the Curtis Institute of Music rejected her, the devastating disappointment compelled her to change direction. She turned to popular music and jazz but never abandoned her classical roots or her intense ambition. By the age of twenty six, Simone had sung at New York City's venerable Town Hall and was on her way. Tapping into newly unearthed material on Simone's family and career, Nadine Cohodas paints a luminous portrait of the singer, highlighting her tumultuous life, her innovative compositions, and the prodigious talent that matched her ambition.
With precision and empathy, Cohodas weaves the story of Simone's contentious relationship with audiences and critics, her outspoken support for civil rights, her two marriages and her daughter, and, later, the sense of alienation that drove her to live abroad from 1993 until her death. Alongside these threads runs a more troubling one: Simone's increasing outbursts of rage and pain that signaled mental illness and a lifelong struggle to overcome a deep sense of personal injustice.

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About the Author:

Nadine Cohodas is the author of, among other books, Queen: The Life and Music of Dinah Washington.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Prologue
 
“I understood fully for the first time the importance of black song, black music, black arts. I was handed my spiritual assignment that night.”
—Ossie Davis, after seeing Marian Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial, Easter Sunday, 1939
 
It was more a path emerging than a promise fulfilled that put Nina Simone on a makeshift stage in Montgomery, Alabama, on a sodden March night in 1965. She wanted to sing for the bedraggled men and women who had trekked three days from Selma to present their case for black voting rights to a recalcitrant Governor George Wallace. Nina was following the lead of James Baldwin, her good friend, mentor, and sparring partner at dinner­table debates, a role he shared with Langston Hughes and Lorraine Hansberry. They were her circle of inspiration, writers who found their voice in the crackling word on the page—the deft phrase and the trenchant insight that described a world black Americans so often experienced as unforgiving.
 
Nina linked her voice to theirs, understanding from the time she was Eunice Waymon, a precocious little girl in Tryon, North Carolina, what it was to be young, gifted, and black, even if she couldn’t find the words to express it. On that stage in Montgomery, long since transformed into Nina Simone, she sang “Mississippi Goddam,” her litany of racial injustice and a signal that she, too, had found her spiritual assignment: to use her talent for the singular cause of freeing her people and not incidentally herself. She never suggested the task was easy, and anyone willing to listen, willing to heed her exhortations, could engage in the struggle at her side.
 
“I didn’t get interested in music,” Nina explained. “It was a gift from God.” But when private demons besieged her, a rage of breathtaking dimension obscured that gift, blinding her to everyday realities even as the anger informed her creations and at the same time served to attract, provoke, and on occasion repel an audience. Yet through it all came the unmistakable pride of accomplishment. “When I’m on that stage, I assume honor. I assume compensation,” she declared, “and I should.”
 
In the best of times Nina could embrace the mysteries of her art, finding comfort in the ineffable. “Did you know that the human voice is the only pure instrument?” she wrote one of her brothers. “That it has notes no other instrument has? It’s like being between the keys of a piano. The notes are there, you can sing them, but they can’t be found on any instrument. That’s like me. I live in between this. I live in both worlds, the black and white world. I am Nina Simone, the star, and I am not here. I’m a woman. My secret self is between these worlds.”
 
From Chapter 1:
Called For and Delivered

~ June 1898–February 1933 ~
 
The gifts that would turn Eunice Waymon into Nina Simone were apparent by the time she was three, though the passions, the mood swings, and the ferocious intensity that marked her adult life were buried for years under her talent. She was born on February 21, 1933, the sixth of eight children, in Tryon, North Carolina, a town perched at the border between North and South Carolina, on the southern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The beautiful surroundings, the pleasant climate, and the good railroad service established by the turn of the century helped Tryon grow from a rural outpost to a haven for white artists and their friends, many of them from the North. Visitors stayed and put down roots, those with keen business instincts making investments that gave the town its municipal backbone.
 
Eunice’s birth certificate listed her father, John Davan Waymon, as a barber and her mother, Kate Waymon, as a housekeeper. But these descriptions, necessitated by the limited space on the state’s official form, failed to capture the creative, entrepreneurial path John had woven through a world both circumscribed and defined by race. Likewise, “housekeeper” did not do justice to the pursuits of his equally determined wife to stretch the boundaries of their lives and give the family its spiritual core.
 
They were respected members of black Tryon and were treated with the patronizing courtesy whites traditionally reserved for those black residents deemed “a cut above.” The Waymons set an example of hard work for their children, underscored by a deep faith that from Kate’s perspective could ease disappointment and loss. Eunice had her doubts, and in her troubled moments as an adult, she would take little solace from her mother’s lessons. Her father’s buoyant spirit and pragmatic outlook, on the other hand, drew her in. “He was a clever man,” she recalled. “Although he wasn’t educated, he had a genius for getting on.”
 
John Davan Waymon and Kate Waymon came from South Carolina, each the descendant of slaves. John, born June 24, 1898, in Pendleton, a small town near Clemson University, was the youngest of several children. A gifted musician, he played the harmonica, banjo, guitar, and Jew’s harp. “He could take a tub and make music out of it,” one of his children would say later with evident admiration, noting, too, that his father had the unique ability to whistle two notes at once. “We could hear that many blocks away—Daddy whistling in the night.” Tall, with a high forehead and prominent cheekbones, he looked the part of the song­and-dance man he became in his teens, dressed in a sharp white suit, spats over his shoes, cane in hand when he entertained the locals.
 
Kate was born November 20, 1901, and christened Mary Kate Irvin (though some family members spelled it Ervin), the baby among fourteen children—seven girls and seven boys. She was never sure what town her parents lived in when she arrived, only that it was in South Carolina, probably Spartanburg County. Her father was a Methodist minister, and while her mother was not officially trained, she had absorbed enough religion to carry on the ministry if Reverend Irvin was called away. Kate’s heritage on her mother’s side was an unusual mix. She took after her maternal grandfather, who was a full-blooded Indian, tall “and of the yellow kind,” as she recalled, and her maternal grandmother, who was short and dark with luxuriant black hair, which Kate inherited. She often wore it in a braid wrapped around her head.
 
One of Kate’s sisters, Eliza, was married to a pastor who led the congregation in Pendleton where John Davan worshipped. Sometime in 1918 he introduced John, then twenty-one, to Kate, only seventeen. Kate remembered that they sang “Day Is Dying in the West” together at church. John was smitten, and he promptly wrote Kate asking to visit her in Inman, where she now lived with her widowed mother. On that first visit they went for a buggy ride, and soon John was coming by every Saturday and staying through Sunday evening. Their routine on these visits usually included a ride in the countryside, the couple entertaining themselves with duets. Kate’s alto blended easily with John’s tenor on their favorites, “Whispering Hope” and “Sail On.” At the Irvins’ they sang around the little organ Mrs. Irvin had bought for her daughter. She paid for a few lessons, and then Kate taught herself the rest.
 
Few of their friends were surprised when John and Kate married in 1920. They moved to Pendleton to live briefly with John’s mother, and then they settled back in Inman. Their first child, John Irvin, was born in March 1922. The year after that Lucille arrived, and then came the twins, Carrol and Harold. When he was just six weeks old, Harold contracted spinal meningitis. He wasn’t expected to live, but he survived, with a permanent paralysis on one side.
 
Though he still loved music, John gave up entertainment to take a job in a dry cleaning plant. He learned the business so quickly and with such thoroughness that he decided to open his own shop. He was also a part-time barber, and to earn extra money he took on work as a trucker. Just as important, he moved comfortably between the worlds of black and white, reaping rewards on both sides of the color line. He prospered enough in Inman so that Kate could stay home to take care of the four children. She even found time to take piano lessons to burnish her natural talent.
 
On one of his truck-driving jobs, John took a load of goods into Tryon, and right away he saw business opportunities for someone with ingenuity and energy. Years later the children remembered the prospect of opening a barbershop as the family’s reason for moving, but more likely it was the chance to run a dry cleaner’s that would serve the burgeoning tourist trade. John, Kate, and the children moved to Tryon early in 1929, taking a small house just off the main street. John opened his shop as planned, proudly announcing in a small ad in the Tryon Daily Bulletin “Dry Cleaning and Pressing—Called for and Delivered.” He even had a phone and listed himself by his nickname, “J.D.” Waymon. On March 7, not long after settling in, Kate gave birth to Dorothy, her fifth child in barely seven years.
 
From Chapter 2.:
We Knew She Was a Genius

~ March 1933–August 1941 ~
 
John Irvin sang in a St. Luke quartet and played guitar with his father; Lucille, Carrol, Harold, and Dorothy sang in the church choir, but even before their baby sister could walk, they realized she had more musical talent than all of them. “When she was eight months old, my daughter hummed ‘Down by the Riverside’ and ‘Jesus Loves Me,’ ” Kate said. “I had a quilt that I had on the floor for her, and she want...

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Descrizione libro The University of North Carolina Press, United States, 2012. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. Born Eunice Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina, Nina Simone (1933-2003) began her musical life playing classical piano. A child prodigy, she wanted a career on the concert stage, but when the Curtis Institute of Music rejected her, the devastating disappointment compelled her to change direction. She turned to popular music and jazz but never abandoned her classical roots or her intense ambition. By the age of twenty six, Simone had sung at New York City s venerable Town Hall and was on her way. Tapping into newly unearthed material on Simone s family and career, Nadine Cohodas paints a luminous portrait of the singer, highlighting her tumultuous life, her innovative compositions, and the prodigious talent that matched her ambition. With precision and empathy, Cohodas weaves the story of Simone s contentious relationship with audiences and critics, her outspoken support for civil rights, her two marriages and her daughter, and, later, the sense of alienation that drove her to live abroad from 1993 until her death. Alongside these threads runs a more troubling one: Simone s increasing outbursts of rage and pain that signaled mental illness and a lifelong struggle to overcome a deep sense of personal injustice. Codice libro della libreria AAS9780807872437

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Descrizione libro The University of North Carolina Press, United States, 2012. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. Born Eunice Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina, Nina Simone (1933-2003) began her musical life playing classical piano. A child prodigy, she wanted a career on the concert stage, but when the Curtis Institute of Music rejected her, the devastating disappointment compelled her to change direction. She turned to popular music and jazz but never abandoned her classical roots or her intense ambition. By the age of twenty six, Simone had sung at New York City s venerable Town Hall and was on her way. Tapping into newly unearthed material on Simone s family and career, Nadine Cohodas paints a luminous portrait of the singer, highlighting her tumultuous life, her innovative compositions, and the prodigious talent that matched her ambition. With precision and empathy, Cohodas weaves the story of Simone s contentious relationship with audiences and critics, her outspoken support for civil rights, her two marriages and her daughter, and, later, the sense of alienation that drove her to live abroad from 1993 until her death. Alongside these threads runs a more troubling one: Simone s increasing outbursts of rage and pain that signaled mental illness and a lifelong struggle to overcome a deep sense of personal injustice. Codice libro della libreria AAS9780807872437

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