Nina Simone came out of the Blue Ridge mountains with a powerhouse voice both as a soul singer and a civil rights icon.
Tryon, N.C., is celebrating the legacy of its most famous daughter who died in 2003. The three-room house where Simone was born as Eunice Kathleen Waymon and grew up in a family of eight children has been officially named as a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in May. Four local African-American artists bought the property and have formed a non-profit to restore the house.
Nina Simone Plaza stands with a heroic statue of the singer who overlooks the historic downtown. Some of the singer’s ashes were combined in the bronze statue, according to surviving sister Frances Waymon Fox. The restful and landscaped plaza is a treasured stop on the Blue Ridge Music Trails, which highlights the best bluegrass, oldtime and gospel traditions, including the strong African-American music that came out of our mountains.
“There is this myth about black people in Appalachia – that we don’t exist,” observed Marie Cochran of the Affrilachian Artist Project, formerly with the Mountain Heritage Center at Western Carolina University. “Then you have someone like Nina Simone who became a global figure in music and social activism and you realize that there are so many stories that haven’t been told.”
Frances Waymon Fox poses with statue of her sister, Nina Simone, in Tryon. Photo by Dale Neal.