NINA SIMONE . CHANTEUSE AMERICAINE . JAZZ . MORLAIX . FINISTERE . 14 MAI 1982 .
Nina Simone at a concert in Morlaix, France, May 1982 [Photo: Roland Godefroy – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0]
BY KEISHA BELL | Visionary Brief
People have their ideas of what mental illness looks like.
Is it easier to identify in people we do not know or in people, we do not like?
Have you grown accustomed to ignoring the man walking down the street, appearing to have an intense argument with what only he can see?
Do we care about her mental struggles when her brilliance makes others money, yet her brazenness creates walls?
Meet Eunice Kathleen Waymon, more commonly known as Nina Simone. Waymon changed her name to make a living. She did not want her mother to know that she was playing what some called “the devil’s music.” Simone was a Civil Rights Movement activist, singer, songwriter, arranger and pianist who lived between February 21, 1933, and April 21, 2003.
Simone was a student at the Juilliard School of Music. She desired to become a concert pianist and applied for a scholarship to study at the Curtis Institute of Music. Despite having a well-received audition, she was denied admission and was convinced that racial discrimination was the reason. Interestingly, a few days before her death, Curtis Institute of Music bestowed on her an honorary degree.
In the late 1980s, Simone was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Her temper and frequent outbursts were not a secret. Reportedly, she took medication for her condition.
Simone had violent tendencies. These incidents were known by a small and select group. Once she died, however, this side of Simone was no longer hidden from the public. For example, in 1985, Simone fired a gun at a record company executive because she believed her royalties were being stolen. Likewise, in 1995, she shot and wounded her neighbor’s son with an air gun because she said that the boy’s laughter disturbed her concentration.
Simone overcame many obstacles in her life to rise to being inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame as well as into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She was a musical genius who many times used her music to address racial inequality. She was also a musical genius who suffered from mental illness.
For some, it may be easier to pretend that all is well, but the fact of the matter is that all is not well. Many times, she is not well; frequently, he is not well. Look within first. Are you well?