“High Priestess of Soul” Nina Simone Born

Nina Simone

On February 21, 1933, Nina Simone, often called the “high priestess of soul,” was born in the small town of Tryon in Polk County.

Determined to become one of the first highly-successful African-American concert pianists, Simone spent a summer at the famed Julliard School after graduating high school in Asheville in 1950. Denied admission to music school in Philadelphia, Simone took menial jobs there.

While on a trip to Atlantic City, N.J. in the summer of 1954, Simone began to experiment with popular music. Word of her talent spread, and she became in high demand at nightclubs all along the Mid-Atlantic coast. After releasing her first album, Little Girl Blue, in 1958, her work began to reflect her increasing involvement in the civil rights movement and her close associations with leading African-American intellectuals like Lorraine Hansberry and Langston Hughes.

After releasing 13 albums during the 1960s, Simone hit a rough patch in the 1970s, struggling with a divorce and mental illness. She toured extensively in Europe during the 1980s and her career began to wind down in the early 1990s. She died in France in 2003.

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