Nina Simone is remembered for her activism as much as she’s remembered for her music. Born in Tryon, North Carolina in 1933, Simone grew up in the segregated South and knew racism first hand. After graduating from high school as valedictorian, she was denied entry to Julliard because of her race, which greatly affected her trajectory as an aspiring classical musician. To make ends meet Nina taught music and performed jazz, blues and classical standards first in clubs in the Northeast and later on her first official studio recordings. An initial aversion to protest music “because a lot of it was so simple and unimaginative it stripped the dignity away from the people it was trying to celebrate,” vanished after the murder of Medgar Evans and the Alabama church bombing in 1963 which deeply affected Simone. She became a leading voice of the Civil Rights Movement, offering many iconic anthems to the cause: “To Be Young Gifted and Black,” “Mississippi Goddam,” “Four Women,” and “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free.” The list goes on and on. In an era where outspoken African American’s were murdered for publicly demanding justice, Nina Simone’s bold and unapologetic activism defines her artistic legacy to this day. A simple #NinaSimone search on Instagram shows how much that legacy matters to people today. In celebration of the upcoming Nina Simone weekend at the North Carolina Museum of Art, we’ve put together a list of artistic works we found on social media inspired by Nina Simone.
Dare Coulter is a Raleigh, N.C. based artist who created the art for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s campaign to save Nina Simone’s childhood home. Her murals adorn buildings throughout North Carolina, and the through line in all her work – mural, sculpture or otherwise – is to create positive imagery of people of color.
Billie Holiday was one of Simone’s musical heroes, and we love that this collage connects the two women’s music and legacy. In 1939 Billie Holiday recorded “Strange Fruit,” a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which directly confronted lynching, which Nina Simone revisited in a 1965 recording later sampled by Kanye West.