Today’s Dope Queen is Nina Simone. Simone was a classically trained pianist and singer/song writer who was also a civil rights activist. Simone was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon on 2/21/1933 in North Carolina to Mary Kate Waymon, a Methodist preacher, and John Divine Waymon, a handyman. Young Eunice started playing piano at age 3, and showed great promise. She played in her mother’s church, and at 10 started taking lessons with Muriel Mazzanovich, an English piano teacher. Eunice enrolled in Jillard School of Music, and later auditioned for The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. She was denied entry despite a well received audition, which she blamed on racism.
Eunice started taking lessons with Vladimir Sokoloff, a professor at Curtis and paid for her lessons by performing at Midtown Bar & Grill in Atlantic City. She knew that her parents would not approve of her playing at a bar, and took the stage name Nina Simone for privacy. She gained popularity as a recording artist with the 1958 album “Little Girl Blue”. Simone recorded over 40 albums through out her career.
In 1964 she released the protest song “Mississippi Goddam in response to the murder of Medgar Evans. The song was boycotted in the south, but Simone continued to record protest music. She spoke and performed at civil rights rallies throughout the country. In 1969 Simone recorded the song “To be Young, Gifted, and Black” in memory of her friend, playwright Lorraine Hansberry. It was based on an unfinished play by Hansberry and became a Civil Rights Anthem.
Simone struggled with mental health issues her entire life, which caused her to act erratically at times. She fought with her managers and record label, and had financial issues with the IRS. Her song “My Baby Just Cares for Me” was used in an ad for Chanel Number 5 in 1987, which helped revitalized her career. She published her autobiography, I Put a Spell on You, in 1992 and in 1993 released what would be her last album. Nina Simone died on 4/21/2003 at 70.