Black History Is American History: Nina Simone


Fotopersbureau de Boer, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Editor’s note: This article is the fourteenth part of a series, Black History Is American History, by Kiarra Ballard. Each day in February, we will publish a new entry in the series, focusing on an influential Black figure from history. You can find all of the entries in this series here.


On February 21st, 1933, Eunice Kathleen Waymon (Nina Simone) was born in Tryon, North Carolina. Her mother, a Methodist pastor, and father, a handyman and preacher, carefully cultivated Simone’s musical prowess. Early in life, she showed extraordinary talent playing the piano in her mother’s church choir.

A natural musician, Simone (1933-2003) could play almost anything by ear and soon began learning classical music. Simone studied Johann Sebastian Bach, Chopin, Brahms, Beethoven, and Schubert. Following her high school graduation as valedictorian, her neighborhood donated funds to provide Simone with a scholarship to attend Juilliard in New York.

Simone developed an interest for protest songs in the 1960s, grew close to Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., and even gave performances at Civil Rights marches. She fled the United States in 1973, furious at American prejudice, and spent the rest of her life moving between parts of Barbados, Africa, and Europe. Until her death in 2003, Simone continued to chart musical history with lyrics that centered Black empowerment.