Jazz great Nina Simone's legend hinged nearly as much of her uncompromising personality as her mighty contralto voice. Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in North Carolina, she was the daughter of a maid and a Methodist minister. Her musical gifts revealed themselves early; as a teenager she entered the Julliard School of Music on a grant, intending to study classical piano. However she was then denied a scholarship at Curtis Institute of Music; the reasons were never explained but she believed racism was to blame. Putting her music instincts aside she took a job singing and playing piano in Atlantic City, using the stage name Nina Simone for the first time (apparently to keep family from finding out). Her first album, 1958's Little Girl Blue came from this era; despite its quick recording it produced two of her signature numbers, "I Loves You Porgy" (her only US Top 20 single) and "My Baby Just Cares for Me" (which became a major UK hit when revived in a perfume commercial three decades later). Her trademark of incorporating classical themes was also introduced on this debut. During this early stage of her career she performed mainly show tunes, spirituals and jazz standards; and her live albums show the fast progression of her career: She did a live album at Greenwich Village's Village Gate in 1962, then made one at Carnegie Hall just two years later. It was a further live album, 1964's In Concert that marked one of the turning points in Simone's career. After reprising some of her early show tunes she announces another show tune, "but the show hasn't been written for it yet." With the audience still laughing she launches into the dead-serious "Mississippi Goddam," written about the murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers by a Klansman. The song became a civil rights anthem (she later sang it in the Selma/Montgomery march) and she later claimed her career was blackballed after she recorded it. She'd continue to do topical material, even covering "Strange Fruit" on a blues album, but her material got even more diverse after switching labels from Phillips to RCA. Late-'60s albums included some unlikely covers of rock-associated songs; her 1970 cover of Jonathan King's psychedelic sendup "Everyone's Gone to the Moon" was perhaps as unlikely as it got. This stage of Simone's career abruptly ended when she took off for Barbados in 1970, pointedly leaving behind her wedding ring with her abusive husband/manager Andrew Stroud. Simone only recorded sporadically after the end of her contract with RCA Records following 1974's defiant It Is Finished. Her later life evinced a fair amount of personal turmoil; she returned to the US in the '80s to learn that an arrest warrant was out for taxes she'd left unpaid as a Vietnam War protest; as a result she left the country again for a number of years. She was arrested in 1995 after firing a gun at a neighbor, an outburst that was attributed to bipolar disorder. However her sporadic live performances found her vocal power undiminished. Her material remained eclectic; her final studio album A Single Woman (1993) included three songs by the long-unfashionable Rod McKuen. Simone's iconic status was secure by the time she acknowledged that she was fighting breast cancer in 2002; she died the following year. Two separate documentary films, "The Amazing Nina Simone"(2015) and "What Happened, Miss Simone?" (2015), kept her legend alive.
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