Her life and music have been the subject of books, film, and countless conversations about music, racial equality, and her legacy in both. Nina Simone, respectfully called The High Priestess of Soul left a mark on the world that is more than musical, though musicians as diverse as Elton John, Mos Def, Alicia Keys, and John Lennon have cited her influence.
Born in North Carolina, she began playing the piano when she was only three or four, playing in church and performing her first classical recital at age 12. She was a gifted pianist and had early plans to pursue a career in classical music. Simone spent the summer of 1950 at Julliard in preparation for her audition for the Curtis Institute of Music. Though she performed well in her audition, she was famously not accepted to the Cirtis Institute, something she would believe the rest of her life was the result of racial discrimination. Listening closely to her performances reveals those classical roots, blended with jazz, blues, and soul. Her debut album "Little Girl Blue", released in 1959 on Bethlehem Records remains because a classic jazz recording, included her version of "I Loves You Porgy" (her only Billboard Top 20 hit in the U.S.)
In the 1960s, Simone used her music to address the racism in the United States. She had left her American record label and signed with a Dutch label, Philips Records. It was Philips who recorded and released her scathing "Mississippi Goddam" on the 1964 album "Nina Simone In Concert." The backlash included radio stations in the southern U.S. actually burning promotional copies of the record. But, she was undeterred and continued to use her music and voice to denounce racial discrimination, performing and speaking at major civil rights events, including the Selma to Montgomery marches.
Her voice was powerful, her piano style impeccable, and presence undeniable. Throughout her lifetime, she released over thirty albums, was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and two days before her death, she was issued an Honorary Doctorate from the Curtis Institute of Music, the school that turned her away so many years before.