She was known as the high priestess of soul, but the late American singer Nina Simone, adored for her hits of the Fifties and Sixties such as My Baby Just Cares For Me, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood and I Put a Spell on You, was a deeply troubled woman.
In the documentary What Happened, Miss Simone, Director Liz Garbus highlights an account of the singer’s daughter Lisa, now 52, who claims to have suffered abuse at the hands of her mother who died in 2003 when she was 70-years-old.
The documentary, which will air on Netflix on June 26, reveals Lisa’s perspective of her mother and father’s tumultuous family relationship, especially after the pair divorced.
Lisa’s mother moved away and left her with family friends only to return one year later with a new kind of rage.
‘In Nina’s autobiography she talks about the violence with her husband, so I did know about that — but that Lisa also was abused by Nina and by her father was not something I had known. But the first time I met Lisa I felt it,’ Academy Award nominated Garbus told The Hollywood Reporter.
Lisa Simone, a singer and actress, recounts growing up in her mother’s famous shadow.
Despite being a respected singer of jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop, in addition to being a civil rights activist, Nina Simone suffered from serious bipolar disorder, said her daughter.
Lisa would sometimes stay with family friends but when she was forced to stay with her mother she claims she was severely beaten and abused and sometimes even contemplated suicide.
‘I went from living with them to living with her … and I could never do anything right,’ Lisa says of being reunited with her mother a year after Nina left her under the care of others.
‘She went from being my comfort to the monster in my life. Now she was the person that was doing the beating, and she was beating me.’
Lisa says the abuse at the hands of her mother became so terrible she flew to New York at the age of 14 to go live with her father.
‘Times got really bad to the point where I thought about committing suicide,’ Lisa says.
‘So when I was 14 I flew to New York and I wound up living with my dad and I never went back.’
The New York Daily News reports that the film has several other gems such as rare performances, handwritten notes, and personal audio recordings.
Lisa says she hopes that sharing her story will help her heal from her years of abuse.
‘The elders say “the truth shall set you free,”‘ she says of revealing her struggles.
‘It never occurred to me to do anything but reveal the truth of our lives as we lived it.’
‘While mom has her story, I, too, have my own,’ she says in the film.
‘Often we think we have healed a great many things until we are faced with certain aspects of our lives head on,’ she said.
This is not the first time Lisa has spoken out about her famous mother. She gave a heartwrenching interview with the Mail on Sunday’s Event Magazine last July.
‘My mother could be a monster,’ Lisa told Event Magazine last year.
‘I was not a happy child when I was alone with her.
‘My mom shot me down a lot, attacked me in public. It is easy to attack children, they are small and depend on you.’
Nina’s death in 2003, aged 70, unleashed family resentments and a battle in courts across America over her multi-million-pound estate.
‘Ugly truths have come out and relationships have died because people treated me as a commodity,’ Lisa tells me.
‘Too many people had ulterior motives.’
Throughout her life Lisa, a professional singer and musician, was dragged across the world by her mother.
When she complained or refused, she was blackmailed and beaten. It is a mark of her erratic and peripatetic life that she had 13 governesses by the age of seven, was working at ten and was her mother’s chauffeur by 12.
She walked out at 14 after a beating.
Nina refused to support her career in the U.S. Air Force or her entry into music, and disinherited Lisa from her will.
‘I’d like to think if she had taken two seconds to think about her behaviour she would have done things differently but I’m not sure.
‘My mother was angry with the world and often the only person around to blame was me.
‘When my parents were together my mother was more giving and open but with the divorce she turned into someone you didn’t want to know.
‘I had nothing to do with my father before his death.’
That father, Andy Stroud, who Nina married in 1961, died in 2012.
A former detective, he was a muscular, handsome but violent man who set himself up as Nina’s manager in the Sixties and kept her ‘in line’ with vicious beatings.