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Nina Simone, high priestess of soul, dies aged 70

Jon Henley in Paris and Duncan Campbell in Los Angeles
Tuesday April 22, 2003
The Guardian

Nina Simone, one of the greatest singing talents of the 20th century and a passionate civil rights campaigner, has died at her home in the south of France, it was reported last night. She was 70.

Named the high priestess of soul by her fans, she was known for her musical brilliance and her outspoken politics. Her unique singing style and stage presence won her a loyal international following.

Born Eunice Waymon into a poor family in Tryon, North Carolina, she played the piano by the age of four and went on to study classical music at the Julliard school of music in New York.

But, according to legend, it was while she working as a pianist in an Irish bar in Atlantic City, New Jersey that her singing career started: she was told that she had to sing as well as play. After realising that she could hold an audience, she changed her named to Nina Simone, taking the surname from the French actress Simone Signoret.

After initial recordings of songs like Don't Smoke In Bed and Little Girl Blue, she had a hit with I Loves You, Porgy, from the opera Porgy and Bess, and became a star. Memorable performances at the Carnegie Hall in New York and the Newport jazz festival followed. Her reportoire included everything from African songs to jazz classics, blues and some of her own compositions.

After four black children were killed in the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, she wrote Mississippi Goddam, a passionate civil rights anthem.

Songs she made famous included I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl and My Man's Gone Now. Simone's interpretation of To be Young, Gifted and Black became a classic.

But despite her international acclaim and success, she fell out with record companies and the way showbusiness was conducted.

She left the US in the 70s and lived in Barbados, then Liberia, Switzerland, Paris and the Netherlands before moving to Bouc-Bel-Air, near Aix-en-Provence in the south of France, where she died.

Guardian Unlimited Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003

Reproduced from:,3858,4652415,00.html

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