Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Eunice Waymon, 21 February 1933, Tryon NC; d 21 April 2003) Cabaret singer, songwriter, pianist; an interpreter of unique emotional power with a world-wide audience. Her parents were both Methodist clergy; she was one of eight children, all musical; her brother Samuel, the youngest, was her manager in '84.

She may have wished to be a classical pianist; she moved to Philadelphia at 17, where she was embittered at not getting into the Curtis Institute, putting it down to racism, though there were 72 applicants for three places. She went to NYC, studied at Juilliard, accompanied singers and began to sing herself. Her debut on Bethlehem included top 20 single 'I Loves You Porgy' '59 (album aka My Baby Just Cares For Me); her material and her career defied category, with equal amounts of blues, jazz, folk, gospel, show tunes, adding up to love and protest. She renounced the USA in the late '60s, went to Barbados, then Liberia (Miriam Makeba was a close friend), then France.

Her best-known composition is 'To Be Young, Gifted And Black' '69; her own single on RCA reached Hot 100 and the song was often covered (e.g. by Aretha Franklin '72). She had many albums on Colpix and Philips '59-66, then Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood '66 on Honey Dew, all later reissued on several labels including Roulette and Verve; a live NYC concert '64 and studio session '65 were combined on a Mercury CD In Concert/I Put A Spell On You, including her own powerful 'Mississippi Goddam'. Then on RCA: Here Comes The Sun, Sings The Blues, The Artistry Of Nina Simone, Pure Gold, Black Soul, Sings Billie Holiday, Silk And Soul, Nuff Said!, Africa etc '66-74 in various RCA editions. (CD Saga Of The Good Life And The Hard Times '97 on RCA was an intelligent compilation of '68 stuff restoring edited parts of Nuff Said!, recorded live the night after Martin Luther King's murder.) Also Let It Be Me (live in Los Angeles) on Verve, Live In Paris and A Portrait Of Nina Simone (live in USA), both mid-'70s on the French Festival label, tracks recycled on Barclay, Musidisc etc; A Very Rare Evening With Nina Simone '69 on PM; Baltimore '78 for Creed Taylor's CTI label was reissued on Epic CD, with a sly reggae pulse on Randy Newman's title song and some soft rock as well as stronger tracks. Fodder On My Wings '82 on Polygram was a concept LP partly in French about rejection of the USA. The Rising Sun Collection '80 was on Just a Memory CD.

After many years of hard work her career was dogged by personal problems leading to unreliability: a gig at Ronnie Scott's in London '84 was standing-room only at premium prices; she was booked to return a few weeks later and didn't show up (but Live At Ronnie Scott's '84 was on DRG). The Bethlehem track 'My Baby Just Cares For Me' was used in TV adverts for Chanel No. 5 perfume '87; a reissued single sold 175,000 copies in the first week, a no. 5 chart hit in the UK; Charly having licensed the material from its American owners was not required to pay her but allegedly offered $20,000 in royalties.

Princess Noire by Nadine Cohodas was a 464-page biography, published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2012. Lou Glandfield in the Times LIterary Supplement described it as 'a detailed and meticulous account--source notes alone run to 40 pages'.