Nina Simone Photography

Nina Simone

Nina Simone took to music at an early age, learning to play piano at the age of three. She studied at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City and hoped to become the first major African-American concert pianist. She eventually found fame singing a fusion of jazz, blues, and folk, but no matter the genre, her classical training always showed through.

The “High Priestess of Soul” had her first release in 1957 and went on to record more than forty albums. Simone campaigned for social and political change in the early ’60s and many of her songs—including “Mississippi Goddam,” “Four Women,” and “Young, Gifted and Black”—were adopted as anthems for the civil rights and black power movements.

As the ’60s drew to a close, Simone grew bitter over America’s deep racial divide and decided to move abroad. She lived in Barbados, Liberia, and several countries across Europe before settling down in Southern France. Though Simone passed away in 2003, she still remains powerfully relevant with two documentaries in 2015—one of which received an Oscar nod—and a 2016 biopic.

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