From “I Loves You, Porgy” and “Feeling Good” to “I Put A Spell on You,” the incomparable Nina Simone is responsible for some of the greatest songs of the 20th century. Then there’s that unmistakable voice: “Sometimes I sound like gravel, and sometimes I sound like coffee and cream,” she once said. Her influence and importance cannot be overstated, but behind all that talent lay several demons. Nina’s daughter has now revealed what her superstar mother was really like behind closed doors.
The Amazing Nina Simone
Nina first started making waves on the Atlantic City club scene of the 1950s playing various blues and jazz classics. Toward the end of the decade, she began recording her own material, resulting in the seminal debut Little Girl Blue.
Over the next ten years, Nina released a string of equally celebrated classics such as Wild Is the Wind, Silk and Soul, and the aptly-titled The Amazing Nina Simone. And she became something of a covers maestro, making much-loved favorites from The Beatles and Bob Dylan entirely her own.
Young, Gifted, and Black
Although she was hailed as the High Priestess of Soul, Nina believed her music was far too diverse to be categorized so neatly. In her memoir, she wrote, “If I had to be called something, it should have been a folk singer, because there was more folk and blues than jazz in my playing.”
Songs such as “Mississippi Goddam,” “Four Women,” and one of her signature tunes, “Young, Gifted, and Black,” meanwhile, put her at the forefront of the civil rights movement of the mid-1960s.
She struggled with her mental health
Disillusioned with the segregated state of the nation, Nina moved around the world before finally taking up permanent residence in southern France. Various financial, behind-the-scenes, and mental health battles kept her out of the spotlight for much of the 1970s.
But she enjoyed success with a 1980s reissue of “My Baby Just Cares for Me” and a 1990s memoir named after one of her greatest hits, “I Put a Spell on You.” And Nina remained a popular live draw up until she retired from the stage at the turn of the century.
A checkered personal life
Sadly, Nina had something of a checkered personal life. In 1961 she walked down the aisle with Andrew Stroud, a cop from the Big Apple. But he proved to be anything but the perfect husband, subjecting her to both physical and mental abuse on a regular basis.
The pair also had a daughter, Lisa. Yet Nina, it turned out, didn’t exactly take naturally to motherhood. In fact, she left her only child behind when she moved from Mount Vernon to Liberia.