Nina Simone, the High Priestess of Soul

By Delanie Gavan, Ferris State University student

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of blog posts for GRandJazzFest written by Ferris State University public relations students. Thank you, Ferris, for helping to build awareness of jazz, the great American music art form! Read about the author at the end of this post.

Nina-SimoneShe was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon on Feb. 21, 1933, but many of us know her as Nina Simone. She was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger and Civil Rights activist. While she worked with a broad range of styles, she is most associated with jazz music. Some of her more popular songs include Feeling Good, I Put A Spell On You and Sinnerman. She earned the name ‘High Priestess of Soul’ because she could capture audiences with her hypnotic music; one could lose track of time when listening to her.

Born in Tryon, N.C., to a big family, Simone aspired to be a concert pianist. She began playing the piano at the age of three and showed great talent. She began performing at her church and recitals. After finishing high school, Simone moved to New York City and studied at the Juilliard School of Music.

Simone began playing small clubs and adopted the stage name Nina Simone in the mid 1950s. She recorded her first album, Little Girl Blue, which turned out to be very successful. She signed a contract with Colpix Records and began recording more albums.

Simone changed record companies in1964. She went from Colpix to Butch Philips. Many of her songs drew upon her African-American origins. Some southern states even boycotted her song, Mississippi Goddam. The song was a response to the bombing of a church in Alabama and the murder of Medgar Evans in Mississippi. A Civil Rights message became the norm in her recordings.

Simone changed record labels, going to RCA Victor where she recorded several songs and albums. Artists like Aretha Franklin and Donny Hathaway began covering Simone’s songs. Simone’s last and final album was recorded on this label on 1974.

In September 1970, Simone left the U.S. and moved to Barbados. She expected her husband and manager, Andrew Stroud, to get in contact with her when she had to perform, but instead he took it as a sign of divorce. She stayed in Barbados for some time, but lived in Switzerland, the Netherlands, and finally settled down in France in 1992, but continued to tour.

Nina Simone had a way of capturing audiences with her words, and giving a look into her soul. Simone passed away just 10 years ago, but her music and legacy continue.


DelanieDelanie Gavan is a junior in the Music Industry Management program at Ferris State University. She is a part of Music Industry Management Association (MIMA), which is the organization affiliated with her major. While at Ferris State, Delanie had helped produce five full-scale concerts. Delanie will also be receiving her certificate in Public Relations. Delanie is graduating in spring 2013.



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