Entertainment

Nina Simone Weekend celebrates a legend, and efforts to preserve her legacy

Nina Simone’s North Carolina home has been designated by the National Trust as a National Treasure. There are efforts to raise money to preserve the home and transform it into something functional while highlighting Simone’s legacy.
Nina Simone’s North Carolina home has been designated by the National Trust as a National Treasure. There are efforts to raise money to preserve the home and transform it into something functional while highlighting Simone’s legacy. AP

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life — for Nina Simone’s historic birthplace in Tryon, that is.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer will be celebrated Aug. 16-18, dubbed Nina Simone Weekend, as part of efforts to preserve the legendary singer and civil rights activist’s North Carolina roots.

Lisa Simone, her daughter, will perform her mother’s feel-good classics at the North Carolina Museum of Art Aug. 17.

“The legacy of Nina Simone is North Carolina history,” says Tiffany Tolbert, senior field officer at the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP), one of many groups partnering to present the concert. “We want to connect people across the state to her.”

Connecting through music is a Simone family trait. Lisa Simone has made a name for herself as an award-winning actress and jazz vocalist. She was in the original Broadway casts of “The Lion King’ and “Rent” on Broadway, earned a Grammy nomination as part of the band Liquid Soul, and co-produced the Oscar-nominated Netflix documentary about her mother’s life, “What Happened, Miss Simone?”

This time, Lisa Simone takes the stage with The Tribe Jazz Orchestra to support the rehabilitation of her mother’s childhood home in Western North Carolina. Last year, the National Trust designated the site a National Treasure — one of only two in North Carolina and less than 100 nationwide.

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Tyle Woodard, 17, paints the birthplace of Nina Simone in Tryon, N.C., on May 2. The nearly 90-year-old home where Simone grew up in Tryon, north of the city’s downtown, is being stabilized after years of neglect that nearly saw the structure be demolished. Workers from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s HOPE Crew have replaced and painted siding on the 660-square-foot structure ahead of additional work on windows, interior and the roof. The Asheville Citizen-Times via AP Angela Wihelm

Simone was born Eunice Waymon in 1933 in the town east of Asheville. She left Tryon, though, at a young age and rarely returned, The News & Observer previously reported. She became known as a more than a musician, but also as an activist, recording the 1964’s civil-rights anthem “Mississippi Goddam.” In 2003, she died in France at the age of 70.

In 2018, she was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

And while her birthplace has fallen into disrepair, the N.C. African American Heritage Commission (NCAAHC) has led the charge to channel “a lot of love and effort and support offered into this legacy space in order to preserve it,” says NCAAHC director Angela Thorpe.

Restoration of the circa-1930 660-square-foot house began in April, and in May a group of visionaries and engineers met to imagine a creative next use. It might be a community art center; it might be an artist workspace.

In July, those efforts got a high-profile boost when the National Trust announced that musicians John Legend along with actors Mahershala Ali and Issa Rae were supporting a crowdfunding effort to preserve the home. More than $26,700 has been raised so far.

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Lisa Simone, Nina Simone’s daughter, is an accomplished singer and artist in her own right. She will perform her mother’s classics at a concert to benefit preservation efforts of her mother’s childhood home. Alexandre Lacombe

Plans are still in the works for the home, certain to “demonstrate how art and preservation practice can combine to honor her legacy… and inspire new generations of creators and preservationists,” says Tolbert. “Preserving and activating places like the Nina Simone childhood home uplift stories of African American achievement and bring those stories to life.”

The concert anchors Nina Simone Weekend at NCMA, presented by the museum, the NTHP, the NCAAH, the N.C. Arts Council and Come Hear North Carolina. Proceeds from the event, which also include music master classes, other performances and a documentary screening, benefit rehabilitation of the Nina Simone childhood home.

This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of WALTER magazine. For more stories, go to waltermagazine.com.

Details

For info on Nina Simone Weekend, go to ncartmuseum.org.

Dance and Documentary, Aug. 16: Sold out

Music Master Class: “Nina Simone Redux, Sing a Song of Nina,” Aug. 17, 10:30 a.m. $27 members, $30 nonmembers

Music Master Class: “Nina Simone, The Life of an Icon,” Aug. 17, 2 p.m. $27 members, $30 nonmembers

Celebrating Nina Simone with Lisa Simone in concert, Aug. 17, 8 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Reserved tickets are $45 ($41 members). General admission is $35 ($32 members). $15 Youth 7–18, college students with ID, general admission only.

A Conversation with Lisa Simone, Aug. 18, 3 p.m. $18 members, $20 nonmembers, free to students with college ID.

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