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Princess Noire: The Tumultuous Reign of Nina Simone
Synopses & Reviews
From the author of the acclaimed Dinah Washington biography Queen comes this complete account of the triumphs and difficulties of the brilliant and high-tempered Nina Simone. Her distinctive voice and music occupy a singular place in the canon of American song.
Tapping into newly unearthed material—including stories of family and career—Nadine Cohodas gives us a luminous portrait of the singer who was born Eunice Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina, in 1933, one of eight children in a proud black family. We see her as a prodigiously talented child who is trained in classical piano through the charitable auspices of a local white woman. We witness her devastating disappointment when she is rejected by the Curtis Institute of Music—a dream deferred that would forever shape her self-image as well as her music. Yet by 1959—now calling herself Nina Simone—she had sung New York City’s venerable Town Hall and was on her way.
As we watch Simone’s exciting rise to stardom, Cohodas expertly weaves in the central factors of her life and career: her unique and provocative relationship with her audiences (she would “shush” them angrily; as a classically trained musician, she didn’t believe in cabaret chat); her involvement in and contributions to the civil rights movement; her two marriages, including one of brief family contentment with police detective Andy Stroud, with whom she had her daughter, Lisa; the alienation from the United States that drove her to live abroad. Alongside these threads runs a darker one: Nina’s increasing and sometimes baffling outbursts of rage and pain and her lifelong struggle to overcome a deep sense of personal injustice, which persisted even as she won international renown.
Princess Noire is a fascinating story, well told and thoroughly documented with intimate photos—a treatment that captures the passions of Nina’s life.
"Cohodas follows her biography of Dinah Washington (Queen) with that of another prominent African-American jazz singer — although Nina Simone would bristle at that label, insisting from the very start of her career that her music was grounded in the classical. (Eunice Waymon only began performing in nightclubs as Nina Simone after a failed application to the Curtis Institute of Music.) If Cohodas is respectful of Simone's legacy, particularly the impact of songs like 'Mississippi Goddam' and 'Young, Gifted and Black' on the civil rights movement, she's also forthright about Simone's contentious relationship with audiences and critics, and the possible mental illness underpinning that turmoil. It seems as if every one of Simone's onstage outbursts is recounted, along with every review describing her as 'a very angry young woman' or wishing she'd stop playing protest songs. One of the few areas in which Cohodas shows full deference to her subject is in brushing off rumors of lesbian relationships, although a passing comment that Simone was 'inexorably drawn' to the playwright Lorraine Hansberry raises questions. For the most part, though, Simone's complex personality — arrogance and brilliance in equal measure — receives a long-overdue elaboration. B&w illus. throughout." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Tapping into newly unearthed material--including family and musical stories never before told--Cohodas presents a luminous portrait of Nina Simone.
A definitive life of the brilliant and high-tempered singer whose unique voice and music occupy a singular place in the canon of American music.
Tapping into newly unearthed material–including family and musical stories never before told–Nadine Cohodas gives us a luminous portrait of the singer who was born Eunice Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina, in 1933. We see her as a prodigiously talented child who was trained in classical piano through the charitable auspices of a local white woman. We witness her devastating disappointment when she was rejected by the Curtis Institute of Music–a dream deferred that would forever shape her self-image as well as her music. Yet by 1959–now calling herself Nina Simone–she had sung at Town Hall in New York City and was on her way.
Cohodas documents Simones intense relationship with her audiences and with writers such as Lorraine Hansberry and James Baldwin; her contributions to the civil rights movement; her two marriages; and her decision to live abroad. And we see, too, how Simone struggled throughout her life to master her anger and to overcome the deep sense of personal injustice that persisted even as she became an international icon of American music.
Here is a revelation of an extraordinary woman and artist.
About the Author
Nadine Cohodas is the author of several books, most recently Queen: The Life and Music of Dinah Washington, which received an award for Excellence in Research in Recorded Jazz Music from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections. She lives in Washington, D.C.
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