Nina Simone's Childhood Home Gets Celebrity Support

Jul 4, 2019

An update on a story we’ve been following since the spring of 2017 when four New York artists purchased Nina Simone’s childhood home in Tryon.    Last summer the property was designated a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This week, the organization is launching a crowdfunding campaign to boost efforts to restore the house. BPR’s Helen Chickering has details.

Musician John Legend and actress and producer Issa Rae are among the celebrities who have pledged their support to help restore the childhood home of Tryon’s famous resident.  Singer songwriter and civil rights activist Nina Simone made her musical mark in the 50s and 60s.  

The three room home where she spent part of her childhood is now owned by four New York artists and last year’s national treasure designation helped set plans for restoration in motion. In May  Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center of North Carolina and the HOPE (Hands-on-Preservation-Experience) brought a crew to Tryon to begin work on the home’s exterior replacing siding, painting and stabilizing a wobbly porch.   Tiffany Tolbert, a senior field officer with the national trust was on the scene supervising.

“The house does have some deteriorated parts, but the work we’re doing will help slow and stymie that while we look at the long term picture for the property. Everyone has been so supportive, there’s just a lot of good will here in North Carolina and around the country.”

And that goodwill is now taking shape as a crowdfunding campaign to help keep the restoration motivation going.  The National trust is also gathering community and public input on plans for the home’s future as cultural landmark

Here’s more about the campaign from the National Trust for Historic Preservation through its African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund

The National Trust’s crowdfunding campaign will run on IndieGoGo, [www.savingplaces.org/nina]  giving the public an opportunity to make donations to this effort, and to purchase newly designed Nina Simone-inspired merchandise including t-shirts, artist prints, pins, and postcards with artwork by Dare Coulter -- a North Carolina-based artist working to create positive imagery of people of color. The campaign will also include the option to acquire additional merch donated by musicians including Talib Kweli, and Yusef/Cat Stevens, and actors Mahershala Ali and Issa Rae.

“Our culture is embodied in old places and the history and stories they keep,” said Brent Leggs, executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “This modest home in Tryon, North Carolina embodies the story of a young black girl who transcended the constraints placed on her in the Jim Crow south, to become the voice of the Civil Rights Movement. Nina Simone’s childhood home provides an important lens for examining the contours of her life, and through its preservation, we hope to celebrate and cement her legacy in our American narrative.”

In 1933, Eunice Waymon, now known as Nina Simone, was born in Tryon, North Carolina. It was in this home that Simone first taught herself the piano at the age of three, performed in public for the first time at the neighborhood church where her mother preached, and where she experienced the constraints placed on African Americans in the rural Jim Crow South. This home would become the inspiration of some of her most influential music and political activism, including songs such as “Mississippi Goddam” and “Four Women.”

Nina Simone’s career spanned multiple genres, four decades, several continents, and earned 15 Grammy nominations. Her songs have been professionally sampled and covered more than 500 times.

“With more than 40 albums over five decades, Nina Simone is one of the most acclaimed singers of all time,” said Neil Portnow, Recording Academy President/CEO. “The Recording Academy has honored her legacy through the GRAMMY Hall of Fame and with a Lifetime Achievement Award, both accolades very much deserved. I’m thrilled to know that her talent will continue to live on through the preservation of her childhood home where her artistic journey began.”

This week, the National Trust will be bringing the Nina Simone Crowdfunding campaign to the 25th annual Essence Festival, where attendees can claim exclusive perks and learn more about this National Treasure.

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The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund is a multi-year initiative led by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in partnership with the Ford Foundation, The JPB Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Open Society Foundations and other partners, working to make an important and lasting contribution to our cultural landscape by elevating the stories and places of African American achievement and activism. savingplaces.org/actionfund

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places.

SavingPlaces.org | @savingplaces