Nina Simone (born Eunice Kathleen Waymon; February 21, 1933 – April 21, 2003) was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and civil rights activist. She worked in a broad range of styles including classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel and pop.
Her musical style arose from a fusion of gospel and pop songs with classical music, in particular with influences from her first inspiration, Johann Sebastian Bach and accompanied with her expressive jazz-like singing in her characteristic contralto.
"Of all the major singers of the late 20th century, Nina Simone was one of the hardest to classify. She recorded extensively in the soul, jazz, and pop idioms, often over the course of the same album; she was also comfortable with blues, gospel, and Broadway. It's perhaps most accurate to label her as a "soul" singer in terms of emotion, rather than form. Like, say, Aretha Franklin, or Dusty Springfield, Simone was an eclectic who brought soulful qualities to whatever material she interpreted. These qualities were among her strongest virtues; paradoxically, they also may have kept her from attaining a truly mass audience. The same could be said of her stage persona; admired for her forthright honesty and individualism, she was also known for feisty feuding with audiences and promoters alike.
If Simone had a chip on her shoulder, it probably arose from the formidable obstacles she had to overcome to establish herself as a popular singer. Raised in a family of eight children, she originally harbored hopes of becoming a classical pianist, studying at New York's prestigious Juilliard School of Music -- a rare position for an African-American woman in the 1950s. Needing to support herself while she studied, she generated income by working as an accompanist and giving piano lessons. Auditioning for a job as a pianist in an Atlantic City nightclub, she was told she had the spot if she would sing as well as play. Almost by accident, she began to carve a reputation as a singer of secular material, though her skills at the piano would serve her well throughout her career.
Simone's best recorded work was issued on Philips during the mid-'60s. (...) These records can be breathtakingly erratic, moving from warm ballad interpretations of Jacques Brel and Billie Holiday and instrumental piano workouts to brassy pop and angry political statements in a heartbeat. There's a great deal of fine music to be found on these, however. Simone's moody-yet-elegant vocals were like no one else's, presenting a fiercely independent soul who harbored enormous (if somewhat hard-bitten) tenderness." from Richie Unterberger, All Music Guide