Site History and Significance
A Legendary American Artist and Activist
Nina Simone, legendary American singer, songwriter, pianist, and civil rights activist, was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in a simple house in Tryon, North Carolina, in 1933. She learned to play the piano at the age of three, and her virtuosity at the keyboard led to training as a classical pianist. By the late 1950s she had established herself as a jazz musician, playing clubs and concert dates, and soon became known as "the high priestess of soul." Simone's career spanned nearly five decades, with her musical languages ranging from classical to jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop.
Deeply affected by the assassination of Medgar Evers and the death of four schoolgirls in a church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, both in 1963, Simone began using the power of her music to protest the treatment of African Americans in the United States. Songs like "Mississippi Goddam" and "Four Women" established her as a major player in the civil rights movement. She once said, "To get near what it's about, you have to play it. And when you've caught it, when you've got the audience hooked, you always know because it's like electricity hanging in the air."
Simone eventually became so disenchanted with American politics that she left the United States in the 1970s and lived abroad for most of the rest of her life in Liberia, Barbados, and ultimately in Europe. She settled near Aix-en-Provence, France, not far from African American writer and friend James Baldwin, who lived in Saint-Paul de Vence, and who, like her, had left the United States in protest. Simone lived in France until her death in 2003.
A New Partnership
Simone's house in Tryon came up for sale in 2016 after various unsuccessful local efforts to preserve and restore it. Concerned for its future, four African American artists—conceptual artist Adam Pendleton, sculptor and painter Rashid Johnson, collagist and filmmaker Ellen Gallagher, and abstract painter Julie Mehretu—purchased the house to ensure its preservation. The group then sought guidance from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and World Monuments Fund (WMF).
Together, WMF and the National Trust's African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund worked with the artists on a two-year plan to develop a vision for the site's future, which included a long-term protection plan, a rehabilitation and reuse plan, and a stewardship model for the property going forward.
Nina Simone Childhood Home Permanently Protected
In 2020, in partnership with WMF and Preservation North Carolina, a statewide historic preservation advocacy organization, the National Trust secured protection of Nina Simone's childhood home through a preservation easement held by Preservation North Carolina.
A preservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement in which a property owner agrees to protect a historic building's authentic character permanently. The easement in place protects the home indefinitely, as the agreement applies to all future owners. The easement will not impede the home's rehabilitation but ensures that its historic character is maintained and prevents demolition.
World Monuments Fund safeguards cultural heritage around the globe, ensuring our treasured places are preserved for present and future generations.
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