Nina Simone Dead at 70

Jazz and blues singing legend Nina Simone, 70, has died at her home in Southern France, the news agency Agence France-Presse reported on Monday. The agency quoted a statement from Ms. Simone's manager.Clifton Henderson, who was at Simone's bedside at her death, said she died of "natural causes" in her sleep after a long illness. He refused to provide the name of the town where she lived.

"She inspired other singers to do what they believed in," Henderson said, saying the musician would also be remembered for her activism. "She'll definitely be looked at as a civil rights movement leader."

Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in 1933 in North Carolina, Simone was the sixth of seven children in a poor family. She began playing the piano at age 4.

In the late 1950s Simone recorded her first tracks, including "Plain Gold Ring" and "Don't Smoke In Bed." But she gained fame in 1959 with her recording of "I Loves You Porgy," from the opera "Porgy & Bess."

But she later wove the turbulent times of the 1960s into her music. In 1963, after the church bombing that killed four young black girls in Birmingham, Ala., and the slaying of Medgar Evers, she wrote "Mississippi Goddam," and after the killing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she recorded "Why? The King of Love is Dead." One of her most famous songs was the black pride anthem, "To Be Young, Gifted and Black."

Simone enjoyed perhaps her greatest success in the 1960s and 70s, with songs like "I Want A Little Sugar in My Bowl," and "Four Women" - the song with the famous line "they call me PEACHES."

She recorded songs from artists as diverse as Bob Dylan (news), Leonard Cohen and Bee Gees and made them her own. Perhaps one of her more popular covers was her version of "House of the Rising Sun."

While she had a regal presence onstage, she could often be temperamental; she had a reputation for chewing out audience members who interrupted her performances in clubs with conversation or loud drinking or talking.

Simone spent much of her recent time in France, and in a 1998 interview blamed racism in the United States for her decision to live abroad, saying that as a black person she had "paid a heavy price for fighting the establishment."

She left the United States in 1973 and lived in the Caribbean and Africa before settling in Europe.

Sometimes called "High Priestess of Soul," Simone stole the show at the Nice Jazz Festival in France in 1977 and also performed at the Thessalonica Jazz Festival in Greece in 1998.

In 1999 she received a lifetime achievement award in Dublin and an award for excellence in music from the Association of African American Music in Philadelphia.

Though she remained a top concert draw in her later years, she was quite frail.

At a 2001 concert at Carnegie Hall, she had to be helped to the stage, and was later seen sitting backstage in a wheelchair.

She was survived by a daughter, Lisa - a singer who goes by the stage name Simone. She's currently starring in Broadway's "Aida" and has recorded with the group Liquid Soul.

Simone, who was born in 1933 in North Carolina, was also known for her version of the Screamin' Jay Hawkins song ``I Put A Spell on You,'' AFP said.

Sail on...

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