Nina Simone

Nina Simone

I tell you what freedom is to me:

No fear"

- Nina Simone


Illustration by Loveis Wise

Illustration by Loveis Wise

Legendary performer Nina Simone found fame early in her career with easy pop hits but it's her later work in the 60s that combines civil rights protests into blues and folk influenced music that brought her recognition. 

Born in Tryon, North Carolina in 1933 by the name of Eunice Waymon, Simone was talented and driven. Her mother, a Methodist preacher, and her father, an entertainer, were both descendants of slaves and pillars in their small black community. Both supported her God-given talent and it was through singing that Simone formed her identity. After high school, she applied to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where her application was rejected. She believed-for good reason-that it was because she was black.

In need of money, Eunice Waymon took a job playing cocktail piano in an Atlantic City dive and, in order to keep the news from her religious family, she changed her name to Nina Simone. From there she settled into New York playing her easy pop songs in Greenwich Village.

It was when she met "A Raisin in the Sun" playwright, Lorraine Hansberry that her activism began. “We never talked about men or clothes,” Simone wrote in her memoir, decades later. “It was always Marx, Lenin and revolution—real girls’ talk.” She would soon befriend many civil rights figures such as King, Malcolm X, James Baldwin and Langston Hughes.

"Mississippi Goddam" was her first protest song in which she channeled her frustration of the racial inequality prevalent in the U.S. The song was her response to a hate crime in Birmingham, Alabama, in which a bomb planted by a white supremacist killed four black schoolgirls. Two years later, she performed the song during Martin Luther King's famed march from Selma to Montgomery. 

She followed up with "Four Women" in which she describes four different types of black women with lyrics such as "My skin is black, My arms are long, My hair is woolly, My back is strong, Strong enough to take the pain inflicted again and again." 

Nina Simone's legacy lives on as a woman who was unapologetically angry and outspoken about how blacks were treated in America: a woman with a fierce courage to bring issues to light. She could not ignore the fact “that [she] was a black-skinned woman in a country where you could be killed because of that one fact.”

In her later years, Nina Simone believed that the Civil Rights movement failed as liberals focused their efforts on Vietnam. She eventually left the U.S. in 1974 to live out her remaining nearly 30 years of life in France. Today, Nine Simone's music is a source of inspiration for rap artists and musicians like Jay Z, Lauryn Hill and Kanye West.



"I chose Nina because against all the odds, she proved that she could become much more than what was expected of her. Nina fought for civil rights, especially with her voice, as an musician to illustrate her reality. " - Loveis Wise, Illustrator


The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation keeps music alive in our schools by providing durable, high-quality musical instruments to deserving, under-funded music programs nationwide. By increasing the school’s inventory of quality, playable instruments, music teachers are given the tools they need to deliver a quality music education to students who want to learn, re-energize their program, attract new students and instill a sense of pride and worth for the students and the entire school. In collaboration with committed school districts, the Foundation’s investments are strategically placed as part of a K–12 district-wide plan to achieve positive and lasting results. 

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat