Nina Simone: 7 Greatest Achievements

Nina Simone

Nina Simone achievements

Nina Simone was one of the most critically acclaimed African-American vocalists to grace the world of music. Growing up in a poor family in North Carolina, Simone once stated that when she started playing piano at nightclubs in Atlantic City, New Jersey, she had to hide her choice of profession from her family, as they considered it “the devil’s music”. Regardless of those hardships and somewhat troubled life, Simone went on to become a huge music icon and a renowned civil rights activist, whose songwriting exploits have inspired several musicians, especially African-American musicians.

The article below delves right into the major facts and achievements of Nina Simone – America’s High Priestess of Soul.

Nina Simone: Quick Facts

Name at birth: Eunice Kathleen Waymon

Birthday: February 21, 1933

Birthplace: Tryon, North Carolina, United States

Date of Death: April 21, 2003

Place of Death: Carry-le-Rouet, France

Buried: her ashes were scattered in a number of African countries

Mother: Mary Kate Waymon

Father: Rev. John Devan Waymon

Education: Allen High School for Girls, Asheville, North Carolina, Juilliard School of Music, New York City

Married to: Don Ross (married in 1958), Andrew Stroud (married in 1961)

Children: Lisa Simone

Main Instruments played: Piano and organ

Also Known As: the High Priestess of Soul

Popular songs: “I Love You, Porgy”, “Mississippi Goddam” (1964), “Ain’t Got No, I Got Life” (1968), “Four Women” (1966), “To be Young, Gifted and Black” (1969), “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” (1964), “Feeling Good” (1966)

Famous Albums: Little Girl Blue (1959), Wild Is the Wind (1966), Black Gold (1970), Nina Simone at Town Hall (1959)

Achievements of Nina Simone

Nina Simone's achievements

Nina Simone’s achievements

World History Edu presents 7 greatest achievements of Nina Simone, one of America’s greatest soul singers of all time.

Her song “I loves You, Porgy” launched her into the limelight

Following her rejection by the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Nina Simone was absolutely down. Her dreams of becoming the first renowned black concert pianist seemed to be moving further and further away from her.

But even she did not know that in less than a decade later, she would produce her version of George Gershwin’s 1935 “I Love You, Porgy”, which would ultimately send her music career skyrocketing.

Prior to releasing the song, she took on several jobs as she could not re-apply to the institute the following year because she was over 21 years old. She had a gig as a photographer’s assistant before ending up in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where she played the piano in several bars. No one in the city had heard her sing, not until the Midtown Bar & Grill owner insisted that she sang while playing the piano.

Nina Simone’s vocals and performance received very positive feedbacks. In 1958, she recorded her version of “I Love You, Porgy”. The song, which made it into Billboard top 20, was such a huge success that it launched her into the limelight.

Did you know: Nina Simone’s “I Love You, Porgy” (1958) was the only song of hers that broke into Billboard top 20 in the United States?

Nina Simone was a versatile singer who fused gospel with pop and a bit of classical music

Nina Simone took enormous inspiration from several artistes of her time. However, due to her love for classical music, she stated that the works of the German composer Johann Sebastian Bach were the ones that the greatest influence on her.

Blending her classical music playing background with jazz-like singing and gospel, Nina Simone was a joy to watch, especially when she was in her groove on stage. She also infused quite a lot of folk music into her songs, giving her a very melodic and hypnotic voice. Simone herself stated that she never liked to rely on one music genre, least she got pigeonholed.

Nina Simone quote

Nina Simone quote

More than 30 albums to her name

Between 1958 and 1974, America’s goddess of soul music, Nina Simone released more than 40 albums. Her debut album was Little Girl Blue. The album, which was under the records Bethlehem Records, the same studio that bought her rights outright for a meager $3,000, was released in February 1959.

In any case, her debut album was well received, propelling Nina to even larger American audience across the country.  The next album of hers was Nina Simone at Town Hall – released less than a year after her debut album. Produced under the record label, Colpix Records, this album included reasonably acclaimed songs like “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” and “Wild Is the Wind”.

Over her rich musical career, she recorded songs and over thirty albums under different labels, including the record labels such as Colpix, RCA Victor, and CTI.

Nina Simone

A quote by Nina Simone bemoaning the stereotypically fashion choices of black women | Philadelphia, 1979

Many of Nina Simone’s songs continue to make waves today

Aside her 1958 “I loves You, Porgy”, Simone gave the world many hit songs, including the likes of “My Baby Just Cares for Me”, “Sinnerman”, “Ain’t Got No, I Got Life”, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, and “Feeling Good”. Many of those songs, particularly “Sinnerman”, have featured in several Hollywood films.

“Ain’t Got No, I Got Life”, which was in her album ‘Nuff Said!, did very well when it was released, peaking at No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart.

Famous musicians, such as Madonna, David Bowie, Adele, Christina Aguilera, Elton John, Lana Del Rey, Bono, John Legend, and countless others, have stated what enormous influence Nina Simone’s songs had on them while growing up.

Nina Simone is revered as one of the greatest singers of all time

Barring her occasional tantrums on stage, Nina Simone was undoubtedly one of the greatest of her time. It is no wonder Rolling Stone magazine placed her 29th on their all-time greatest singers.  A true genius, Simone was not afraid to add social commentary in her music, knowing quite well that she would face a huge backlash from the establishment at the time. Her piano playing and singing prowess were there for everyone to see.  On the days that she fully showed up on stage, her vocal intensity was simply out of this world.

Nina Simone was heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement

Another monumental achievement of Nina Simone came in the form of her tireless work in advancing civil rights in America.

Beginning around her fourth album, she started infusing the civil rights movement causes in her songs. Notable mention can be made of her song “Mississippi Goddam” (1964), which ultimately became a very important anthem for the civil rights movement. The song, which came out on her album Nina Simone in Concert, took her about an hour to compose.

The song was her way of dealing and responding the gruesome murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers in June, 1963. Some southern states took offense to her single “Mississippi Goddam”. In some states, her records were burnt. Simone herself described the song as “like throwing ten bullets back at them”. By “them” she referred to the racists and white supremacists that were involved in the murder of civil rights activist Edgar, as well those that blew up the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963. The racially-motivated crime in Alabama claimed the lives of four black girls, injuring one person in addition.

Since “Mississippi Goddam”, Nina Simone got hooked onto numerous civil rights causes. She performed and gave speeches at rallies, meetings and church services. She was even present at the Selma to Montgomery marches. Although she was friends with renowned civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr., she still somewhat gravitated to ideologies to Malcolm X. She supported the Black Nationalist movements and was kind of in favor of a violent revolution instead of the non-violent forms MLK advocated.

It must be noted that on several occasions she categorically supported having a society where all races were treated equally. This view of hers was evident in her 1992 autobiography I Put a Spell on You.

Did you know: Simone stated that the music industry punished her by boycotting her albums and works because she was involved in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s?

Read More: Major Achievements of Martin Luther King Jr.

She advocated for women of color

Nina Simone was a versatile singer, who took bits and pieces from a variety of music genres, including Scottish folk songs. She would then package them into masterpieces that could also serve as anthems for the women’s rights causes.

Notable works of hers in this regard was To Be Young, Gifted and Black” (1969), which she collaborated with lyricist Weldon Irvine. Written in memory of playwright Lorraine Hansberry, the song called on blacks to be curious about their history and take pride in their identity.

Simone also encouraged black women all across the world to let go of the Eurocentric standards of beauty. This message of hers was best shown in her song “Four Women” (1966). The song, which was released on her album Wild Is the Wind under the label Philips Records, highlights the unique characteristics of four different African American women. The lyrics in the song shed enormous light on the injustices African Americans, particularly women, have had to go through for centuries in America.

Co-written with Stephen Cleary, her autobiography  I Put a Spell on You (1992) served as a big inspiration to black women, calling on them to be themselves and not to succumb to Western standards of beauty.

Nina Simone

Nina Simone’s Achievements |Her response to critics comparing her to legendary musician Billie Holiday (“Lady Day”)

Other notable accomplishments and awards

  • In 2000, she received the Grammy Hall of Fame Award. This was in recognition of her 1958 song “I Loves You, Porgy”.
  • In 2009, Nina Simone was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame.
  • Perhaps the biggest posthumous honor bestowed on her came in 2018, when she was inducted into the Rock and Hall of Fame. Gracing the ceremony was African-American musician Mary J. Blige.
  • Both Amherst College and Malcolm X College honored her with degrees in music and humanities respectively.
  • She received four Grammy Award nominations (two while she was alive and two posthumously awarded) – Best R&B Solo vocal Performance, Female for (You’ll) Go To Hell from her album Silk & Soul (1967) at the 10th Annual Grammy Awards; and Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female for her album Black Gold  at the 13th Annual Grammy Awards.
  • Nina Simone received a nomination for Best Music Film for the movie What Happened, Miss Simone?
  • The Library of U.S. Congress selected her classic song “Mississippi Goddam” to be included in its National Recording Registry. The registry preserves art works that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
  • The Dutch city of Nijmegen honored Nina Simone by naming one of their streets “Nina Simone Street”. Towards the later part of the 1980s Nina Simone spent some time in not just Nijmegen, but also Amsterdam.

    A street in the Dutch city of Nijmegen was named after soul music legend Nina Simone — Nina Simonestraat Nijmegen. Netherlands

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