Spotlight on Nina Simone: WNC childhood home to be preserved, Sundance doc debuts


The spotlight has been shining lately on Nina Simone, the world-renowned musical star who grew up in Polk County here in Western North Carolina.

First, a fantastic Simone documentary, What Happened, opened this year’s Sundance Film Festival a week or so ago. Here’s Rolling Stone on the film:

Beginning with footage of the singer staring down an audience at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1976, What Happened goes about answering its question by flipping back to Simone’s childhood, detailing her early musical ambitions to be the first black female classical pianist. Despite her talent and the financial support of well-to-do patrons, she was rejected by the prestigious Curtis Institute in Philadelphia; that “early jolt of racism,” as Simone referred to the incident, became the first of several events to fuel an inexhaustible supply of anger at society. A summer gig at an Atlantic City bar gave birth to the blues chanteuse she’d eventually become, with the film tracing her rise to hit recording artist, jazz sensation, long-suffering wife (her manager/husband Andrew Stroud does not come off well), a major player in the Civil Rights movement, industry pariah, American ex-pat, playing-for-chump-change café performer and, eventually, a rediscovered legend.

Music docs often live or die by the footage they dig up of their performer(s), and the clips Garbus uses to chart Simone’s numerous rises and falls makes all the difference: a Playboy’s Penthouse episode of Hugh Hefner introducing the singer crooning her version of “I Loves You, Porgy”; Simone performing a fiery “Mississippi Goddam,” her reaction to the 1963 bombing of a Birmingham church; a rendition of “The Backlash Blues,” in which the violence of her piano playing underlines the aggressiveness of the lyrics; a cri de couer take on “Why? (The King of Love Is Dead)” given on the day of Martin Luther King’s death.

Second, Jon Elliston of Carolina Public Press reported in December that there’s a new plan to preserve Simone’s childhood home in Tryon. Elliston reports that Dan Riedmann of Nineteenth Century Restorations, a company that specializes in historic preservation work, recently reached an agreement with Kipp McIntyre, the owner of the house Simone grew up in, to restore the dilapidated structure.

Finally, Rhiannon Giddens of The Carolina Chocolate Drops has issued her first solo album, Tomorrow is My Turn. One of the tracks on the record is Black is The Color, a song famously recorded by Simone. Giddens puts her own twist on it, including adding some of her own original lyrics.

Image link for Nina Simone.