Eunice Kathleen Waymon born February 21, 1933. She was the sixth of eight children born to John - an entertainer turned family man - and Mary Kate - who became a church minister - a poor southern black family that lived in Tryon, North Carolina.
Her father played piano, guitar, and harmonica; her mother played piano and sang. Her brothers and sisters all played piano and sang in the church choir, gospel groups, glee clubs and social events. She started learning music the natural way by watching her family. The Waymon’s owned a pedal organ, and by the time Eunice was tall enough to climb on the stool and sit on the keyboard, she had musical talent.
She was a child prodigy. By the age of 6, Eunice would play piano in church and other events where her mother preached. Her mother also worked as a housekeeper for a white lady, Mrs. Miller. She heard Eunice playing for a choir and insisted that she had to have proper piano lessons. Since her family could not afford lessons, Mrs. Miller would pay for Eunice to have piano lessons for a year and if she showed promise they would have to figure out a way to continue the lessons. Her tutor, an English woman Mrs. Muriel Massinovitch, introduced her to Bach. Once she understood Bach’s music, she wanted to dedicate her life to music. As a child, her biggest dream was to be a concert pianist.
After a year of lessons, Eunice showed amazing potential. Since Mrs. Miller could not continue to pay for her lessons, Mrs. Massinovitch created the Eunice Waymon Fund and raised money by getting the town of Tryon involved with regular recitals to showcase Eunice’s talent. After graduating high school, Eunice got a scholarship to attend Julliard in New York for one year. After a year in Julliard, she auditioned for the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia but was denied admission because of her race.
The disappointment of not getting into Curtis caused her to give up music for a while. Holding various jobs to support herself until she eventually started working as a pianist and assistant to a vocal teacher. One of the college students she taught introduced the idea that she go to Atlantic City and find employment as an lounge entertainer. Knowing that her mother would not approve of this notion, she decided to take a stage name. She chose Nina – an affectionate term that an ex-boyfriend used to call her meaning girl in Spanish – and Simone – after Simone Signoret a French actor, because she though it sounded sophisticated. With her new stage name, she got a job in a small bar and grill off the boardwalk. At first she just played the piano, but her boss told her that she had to sing or she could not keep the job. Nina began to put her own style – a mixture from her background of classical and gospel - to popular songs. This led to an unexpected career as a “jazz” entertainer putting aside her dreams of being a classical pianist.
During the 1960’s, Nina got involved with the current...