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2014 Group Reads > Nina Simone: February Biography

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message 1: by Londa (new)

Londa (londalocs) | 1526 comments We decided to discuss Nina Simone in a more broad way, since some were having problems getting the book.

Some are reading I Put a Spell on You: The Autobiography of Nina Simone and some are reading Princess Noire: The Tumultuous Reign of Nina Simone Any Nina Simone biography would be fine if you want to join the discussion.

Discussion Schedule

Early Life and Career Beginnings (1933 - 1960) -- February 10
Success, Fame, and Civil Rights (1960 to 1974) -- February 17
Later Life, Death, & Legacy (1975+) -- February 21


message 2: by Londa (new)

Londa (londalocs) | 1526 comments Just started my reading (Spell.Chapter 1), but I was very touched by how Nina describes her very early life and her parents beginnings. They seemed to be a very loving family so far, and she definitely was a Daddy's girl.


message 3: by Heidi (new)

Heidi I'm reading I Put A Spell on You. I borrowed some of her music fom the library to accompany my reading which as been a nice enhancement of the material (so far my favorite song is Mississippi Goddamn). What strikes me so far is her singular voice. Whether I'm listening to her or reading her words, her distinctive voice carries through. She definitely is saying this is who I am take it or leave it.


message 4: by Londa (new)

Londa (londalocs) | 1526 comments Heidi that is a great idea! I will look into getting some of her music too. I watched a couple of her videos and have downloaded one here

https://www.goodreads.com/videos/5901...

I agree that she tells things like she sees them. She did not seem to make any effort to tell her story the way others would want to hear it.

I have made it through Ch. 3 now, and I was amazed at how much self discipline she had at a young age. Many many girls would have come to that crossroads with Edney and gone down the wife/motherhood side, but she knew what she wanted to accomplish in life already. Too bad he decided to marry someone else instead of just trying wait for her, or go with her in some way.


message 5: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 1078 comments I am reading Princess Noire: The Tumultuous Reign of Nina Simone.
For this first week - Princess Noire had a chapter that also ended at 1960 also.

So far I think the main difference in the books is Princess Noire is probably providing a little bit more historical background on the times and events surrounding Nina Simone's life which I am enjoying.

As I am a newbie to living in NC - I enjoy learning more about the history of the state, especially to how it relates to black history and the living conditions for black people.

While Nina's parents were from SC, the moved to Tryon NC which seemed to allow for Nina's father to be able to pursue his entrepreneurial nature. And because of the railroad, the climate, scenery became a "tourist" location with wealthy Northerners and foreigners buying homes in this area. While the blacks and whites tended to live close to their own groups they tended to live in a more checkerboard type of pattern rather than the living on separate side of the railroad tracks. While it was still the South - the segregation atmosphere was not as oppressive as in other parts of NC and the South.

Mentioned that her family recognized her genius at a very young age and she was often excused from routine household chores to protect her fingers.

She wondered if the goal to be the first Black American concert pianist was hers or her mothers. Princess Noire points out that there were a couple of Black American concert pianist at the time - Hazel Harrison, Natalie Hinderas & Philippa Schuyler

Continued her studies at Allen School in Asheville - 1 of 3 private accredited secondary schools for black girls in NC.

Hazel Scott became her idol

Her earlier life and training allowed her to be more practiced in moving through complicated terrain of two worlds - felt at home @ Juilliard

She demanded rules of decorum when playing in clubs/bars (non-concert)

Thought of the name Nina Simone on the spot because did not want her mother to know she was performing in non-classical venues.

Nina had her standards and there was also during this time a display of attitude that would eventually lead to her getting a reputation of being moody and difficult to work with.

When questioned if there was "staging and commercialism" in her act - she said yes and that would disappear when she was not longer scared of poverty and had to worry about food and money all the time. Then the public would see the "real" Nina Simone.

An article used the term "Simone-ized" to describe the way Nina poked experimentally into unexpected crannies of a song.

Also in 1960 did something that was uncharacteristic of her at this time (but won't be the last we see this) becomes an agent of social change as she becomes a lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging NYC cabaret card regulations for the need to get a police identity card.


message 6: by Heidi (new)

Heidi Ok- I appreciated her honesty. You read so many memoirs and the person is committed to painting a completely unrealistic positive image of themselves - even if it means ignoring an elephant in the room. But Nina Simone just told her truth and let you be the judge....and I feel so bad for judging her, but I'm judging.

I guess when you're reading you are also bringing your own life experience to the book, and as a mother of a young child I couldn't get past her negligent treatment of her daughter. She did not make any decisions based on what would be most beneficial for her child.

In addition, her romantic and professional choices as she went on in life perplexed me. I can comprehend making the same mistake once or twice, but come on, she kept making the same mistake over and over and over again. My mother taught me that doing the same thing again and again, and expecting a different result is the definition of crazy. And on a serious note, as the book continued I fully expected that there would be a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, or maybe schizophrenia?

Whilst I disagreed with a lot of her life decisions, my heart ached for her. Her pain, loneliness, and insecurity were palpable. I wonder about the years following the book...and that is one of the main reasons I rated this book highly, because I still want to know more about Ms. Nina Simone.

Londa - thank you for posting the video-loved it.


message 7: by Heidi (new)

Heidi And I loved her inclusion of photos in the book.


message 8: by Londa (new)

Londa (londalocs) | 1526 comments Beverly & Heidi,

I have so much to add to your great comments. I'll be back tomorrow, when I have more time. She definitely had an interesting life! I agree Heidi. I was shocked at all she admitted!


message 9: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 1078 comments Heidi wrote: "And I loved her inclusion of photos in the book."

Yes, Princess Noire also has pics.
But then I am old enough to remember Nina Simone's pics in Ebony and Jet.


message 10: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 1078 comments Heidi wrote: "Ok- I appreciated her honesty. You read so many memoirs and the person is committed to painting a completely unrealistic positive image of themselves - even if it means ignoring an elephant in th..."

Princess Noire also quoted from her memoir and it did not that her memoir dealt mainly with her emotions and was not necessarily about her "life".

It sounds like the memoir was more of a diary - that allows her to express her feelings.

I can see where that could be a good thing for her - and she admits and others in telling is that she was very emotional and often times it seems others did not know what caused her to have outbursts and mood swings.


message 11: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 1078 comments I thought the same thing about expecting a diagnosis of some form of mental illness - but that was a taboo subject especially back then in the black community.


message 12: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 1078 comments I was very surprised to read that Andy (her second husband) had beat her up pretty badly before they were married and others advised not to marry him. But she did and Andy seemed to be the one that often was able to calm her down before a performance and he seemed to be an able business and financial manager.


message 13: by Londa (last edited Feb 20, 2014 09:51AM) (new)

Londa (londalocs) | 1526 comments I guess we should just talk about her whole life from now on because I flubbed up the schedule anyway :D

About her growing up

She did actually go into great detail about the history of Tryon and the unique checkerboard pattern of the white/black homes. It seems that everyone got on well enough until the depression caused widespread poverty. I enjoyed these details too. I wanted to move to NC for a long time, so I envy your Beverly

I was amazed that she could play the piano at such a young age. I have no musical talent whatsoever so I am easy to amaze anyway.

She mentioned that the community had a Eunice Waymon Fund to pay for her musical education and that blacks and whites contributed to it. That struck me as especially wonderful.

I didn't get the impression that Allen School was all black from what she wrote

Allen High was morally upright, had good academic record and Mrs Joyce Carrol, a woman who had Miz Mazzy's respect, was piano tutor. It was a private school and fairly advanced, which meant that black pupils were accepted if the could pay the fees.

I love the name Nina Simone! I was so glad that she explained how she came up with it and why.

Oh, and in Spell she went into great detail about how her mother spent so much time away from her, and how she viewed her piano tutor as a second mother because she showed her affection that her mother didn't.

That is why I, like Heidi, was surprised that she spent so little time with her own daughter, and she hardly mentions her at all. When she sent her to the boarding school in Switzerland, it finally dawned on me that she just wasn't that into being a mother.


message 14: by Londa (new)

Londa (londalocs) | 1526 comments I really thought the book should have been titled

No apologies, no regrets!

She really laid it all out there. She admitted freely to:

*Propositioning and sleeping with (famous) married men (multiple times)

*Dancing naked in public...more than once

*Purposefully not going to see her father when he was dying. (This I COULD NOT understand)

Like you said Heidi, most people would paint a more acceptable picture of themselves, but she did not seem to care.


message 15: by Londa (last edited Feb 20, 2014 09:56AM) (new)

Londa (londalocs) | 1526 comments Beverly wrote: "I was very surprised to read that Andy (her second husband) had beat her up pretty badly before they were married and others advised not to marry him. But she did and Andy seemed to be the one that..."

YES!! He beat her after he tied her to a chair! She later decided it was because of him drinking heavily, and becoming temporarily insane. She only mentioned that one incident, but I was wondering if he did it more often than she admitted. Her father did not attend their wedding.

And yes, he did seem to be skilled at managing her career. But not so skilled at managing the financial aspects, not taxes anyway.

At one point, after they have been divorced and separated for years, he persuades her to come back to America and let him manage her again. Almost immediately after getting in the US she had to go to court on charges of tax evasion. She didn't know about the court hearings at all. I felt Andy had set her up to get himself off the hook. He was a shady character to me.


message 16: by Londa (new)

Londa (londalocs) | 1526 comments Thanks so much for suggesting I get the music Heidi. I have been listening to it on my drive to work. My faves so far are 'I put a Spell on you' and 'Don't let me be misunderstood'

I have always heard the name Nina Simone, but truthfully I didn't know much about her.

I am really enjoying getting to know her work.


message 17: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 1078 comments Londa wrote: "I guess we should just talk about her whole life from now on because I flubbed up the schedule anyway :D


About her growing up


She did actually go into great detail about the history of Tryon..."


I guess I a little surprised that she said that her mother spent so much time away from her. In Princess Noire - her mother was a stay-at-home mom until the depression and she did days work. The mother also became a deacon in her church. It was through one of her mother's clients (white Northerner who saw her potential) that allowed for weekly music lessons, performances in town, etc). Her mother did do traveling to preach. But then Nina went away to boarding school, started working in Atlantic City, etc and it was usually one of her brothers who went with. That seem to make sense to me to have a male around. And Nina did not want to tell her mother at first that she was playing in bars, etc. Also a lot of places she was playing at first did not admit Blacks. In many ways it seemed to me that Nina wanted a musical career and went the places and did the things that she needed to do to be successful. Though she admits getting married both times because she did not want to be lonely.
I saw her mother having to take care of other children and husband, and that her church was important to her. Princess Noire does not mention that her mother was neglectful of her but for many years her mother accepted what she was doing as Nina said it was temporarily and still was pursuing a career as a classic painist.


message 18: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 1078 comments Londa wrote: "Beverly wrote: "I was very surprised to read that Andy (her second husband) had beat her up pretty badly before they were married and others advised not to marry him. But she did and Andy seemed to..."

Yes, they really did not want her to marry Andy.
In Princess Noire - they mentioned many quarrels but not the physical abuse that happened that first time. I think there were a couple of other physical incidents.


message 19: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 1078 comments Londa wrote: "I really thought the book should have been titled

No apologies, no regrets!

She really laid it all out there. She admitted freely to:

*Propositioning and sleeping with (famous) married men (mu..."


This also made me believe she had a mental illness as this behavior is often associated with certain mental illnesses.

Also the getting drunk and dancing naked - it seemed that a lot of Nina's behavior was related to her feeling of being lonely.


message 20: by Londa (last edited Feb 20, 2014 10:28AM) (new)

Londa (londalocs) | 1526 comments Nina didn't see her mother as neglectful either. She saw her as the breadwinner and backbone of the family actually. She just wasn't as affectionate as Nina wanted. Something tells me that even as a child Nina craved attention. It is hard to get much of that in a house full of kids. Her mother often traveled to preach as well, and though Nina went with her to play the piano, I guess it is not the same as one on one time.

I think we are on the same page with Nina's priorities. Her first priority was ALWAYS her art and music..always. Everything and everyone else was a distant second.


message 21: by Londa (new)

Londa (londalocs) | 1526 comments Beverly, did Princess Noire mention her meeting with Farrakhan? It was one of the most bizarre things I have ever read! My mouth was hanging open the entire time.


message 22: by Lee (new)

Lee | 708 comments Today is Nina Simone's 81st birthday!


message 23: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 1078 comments Lee wrote: "Today is Nina Simone's 81st birthday!"

Happy Birthday, Nina Simone


message 24: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 1078 comments Londa wrote: "Beverly, did Princess Noire mention her meeting with Farrakhan? It was one of the most bizarre things I have ever read! My mouth was hanging open the entire time."

No, well let's say I do not remember that incident being mentioned in the same detail as in her memoir. Princess Noire talked much more about her relationship with Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture)and the concerts/benefits should would do for the various groups during the Civil Rights Movement.

Why were you so surprised about the incident between them?


message 25: by Londa (new)

Londa (londalocs) | 1526 comments In Nina's own words

(view spoiler)

I just found it weird that she would be focused on that and that she made the invite! I think I was most surprised that she admitted it LOL

I also thought (view spoiler) She was a trip!


message 26: by Londa (new)

Londa (londalocs) | 1526 comments Lee wrote: "Today is Nina Simone's 81st birthday!"

Happy Birthday Nina! :0)


message 27: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 1078 comments Londa wrote: "In Nina's own words

[spoilers removed]

I just found it weird that she would be focused on that and that she made the invite! I think I was most surprised that she admitted it LOL

I also thought..."


When I was younger I remember hearing the stories regarding her but I never thought one way or the other about them. But after reading this book it often seems she was okay within her skin but it does not seem like she was happy within herself.

But then when your life is under a microscope - it must be a very difficult situation to be yourself or get to know yourself. And often what is seen as "ordinary" behavior in less public figures get blown out of proportion by those in the public.

And yes, she was very outspoken - but was this her way of seeking help for the pain she felt?


message 28: by kisha, The Clean Up Lady (new)

kisha | 3902 comments Mod
I will have to find the YouTube link, but she was actually diagnosed don't quote me but I believe it was paronoid schizophrenia. It was VERY private because of her career. Her family thought it was best because of her position as an activist. They didn't want people to stop taking her serious. If I'm not mistaking she spent time in a mental institution.


message 29: by Heidi (new)

Heidi kisha wrote: "I will have to find the YouTube link, but she was actually diagnosed don't quote me but I believe it was paronoid schizophrenia. It was VERY private because of her career. Her family thought it w..."

Kisha you are awesome...it was on my to do list to follow-up on that thought. I can understand their reasoning, even now mental illness can be a stigma.


message 30: by kisha, The Clean Up Lady (new)

kisha | 3902 comments Mod
Definitely so. When I watched her perform Feelings on YouTube it intrigued me. Then I thought she's either a musical genius or crazy! Of course when I said that I didn't know she really suffered mental issues. But I understand as well why it was kept under wraps.


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