Saturday, February 14, 2009

Simone (1962- )

Me and Simone following her concert at Bloomsburg University on Friday, February 13th, 2009. Simone is the daughter of the late, great Nina Simone and presently makes her home in East Stroudsburg, PA.

Back in 2000, I had the honor and pleasure of attending a concert of one of my favorite singers, the legendary High Priestess of Soul Nina Simone in Philadelphia, in what was to be her final major concert tour of the United States before her untimely death in April 2003. Last night, I had the honor and pleasure of attending a concert by her daughter Simone, who now makes her home in the Pocono Mountains. Some things just come around full circle in the most wonderful way.

Simone was born Lisa Celeste Stroud in New York City on September 12, 1962. She was the first and only child of Eunice Wayman (better known by her stage name, Nina Simone) and her then husband/manager Andrew Stroud. Nina Simone was a major recording artist, a classically trained pianist, and an early civil rights activist whose repertoire included both her own original compositions (such as Four Women, I Want A Little Sugar in My Bowl, Mississippi Goddam, and To Be Young, Gifted and Black) and interpretations of songs by some of the best songwriters in music (from Bob Dylan to The Beatles to Barry Gibb). Simone lovingly and jokingly referred to her mom as a "covers queen" in concert because, as a child, she had no idea that her mom didn't write Dylan's Just Like a Woman or George Harrison's Here Comes the Sun.

As a child, Lisa often toured with her mother as she played venues and festivals around the world, and she explained that it was a challenge growing up sharing the woman you know only as mom with fans around the world. Lisa's mother was also friends with some of the most outstanding leaders in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, including activists Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, poet Langston Hughes and playwright Lorraine Hansberry. She explained during her concert that these historical people were also her extended family--she was even friends, playmates and fellow campers with their children. Simone's godmother, Miriam Makeba, was also Nina Simone's best friend and a legendary singer in her own right.

In 1982, after initially planning to study to be a lawyer, Lisa joined the U.S. Air Force, where she spent the next 10 years serving her country.

It was then that Lisa decided that she wanted to follow in her mother's footsteps and become a singer and performer. Although she knew her daughter had a spectacular voice and had immense talent, Nina Simone was apprehensive at first of her daughter's decision to enter the entertainment business; although Nina Simone was very successful in her career, she was also all too familiar with the struggles, betrayals, and stresses a career in performing entails.

When she began her professional life, Lisa took the stage name Simone as a way to honor her mother--I truly think this is a wonderful thing because, unlike most children of famous performers who do their best to distance themselves from the "the daughter of" label (particularly when she pursues the same avenue as her famous parent), she embraces her mother's legacy and music and, most importantly, how much her mother's music means to so many people.

With her career plans now firmly in place, Simone landed roles in touring productions of musicals such as Jesus Christ Superstar. She also understudied the lead roles of Mimi and Joanne in the hit musical Rent on Broadway; Simone also starred in the touring company of the show.

Mother and daughter did have the opportunity to perform together when Nina Simone performed a concert in Ireland; Simone performed a powerful version of her mom's song Music for Lovers as Nina accompanied her daughter on piano (this recording opens Simone's debut CD, Simone on Simone, released in 2008 on Koch Records).

In 2002, Simone took over the title role in Elton John and Tim Rice's hit musical Aida on Broadway, which she played for 18 months. Her proud mother attended one of the performances and heaped praise on her talented daughter.

Towards the end of Simone's run on Broadway in Aida, she learned that her mother Nina Simone passed away in the south of France on April 21, 2003.

On April 21, 2006, three years after her mothers passing, Simone paid tribute to her at Town Hall in New York, at the very venue where forty-seven years earlier a 26-year old Nina Simone had enjoyed her first major show in the city.

In 2008, Simone released her debut CD titled Simone on Simone, a loving tribute to her mother's music and legacy. She is presently touring to both promote the CD and to pay tribute to her mother's outstanding musical legacy. Simone on Simone includes Simone's interpretations of some of her mother's best known and loved songs, including Feelin' Good, Love Me Or Leave Me, Don't You Play Them No Mind, Go To Hell, and the resonating and prophetic Keeper of the Flame. Also included on the CD is an autobiographical song written by Simone herself titled Child in Me, about her relationship with her mother and the difficulties of sharing someone you know simply as mom with a world that only knows her as Nina Simone.

Simone also occassionally performs with the group Daughters of Soul, which also includes the children of Chaka Khan and Donnie Hathaway.

Simone, her husband and nine year-old daughter (who sometimes joins her mother on stage for the song Love Me or Leave Me) presently make their home in East Stroudsburg, PA.

After her excellent concert at Bloomsburg University last night (where she performed songs from the CD Simone on Simone, as well as some of her own original songs and even some of my favorite Nina Simone that are not included on her CD), I had the opportunity to meet Simone. Of course, I had to ask her, out of all the places she has travelled, why she chose to make Northeastern Pennsylvania her home. Her response? "The house." She told me she simply fell in love with her house in the Poconos and just had to live there. She also told me how weird it was to have the last name Stroud and to live in Stroudsberg, which I found hysterically funny because connecting the two never even dawned on me. However, she told me that, although she loves NEPA, she HATES snow and HATES the cold, so she and her family also own a home in Florida, where they live part of the year. She was also thrilled when I told her I saw her mom in concert nearly 10 years ago in Philadelphia.

In short, Simone is incredibly sweet, incredibly talented (WHAT A VOICE!), and (out of all the places in the world) has chosen to make NEPA her adopted home.

Simone's superb debut CD, Simone on Simone, is available to borrow from Lackawanna County Library System. To place a hold, click here.

Much thanks to Simone for posing for the pic with me, for keeping her mother's legacy alive, and for a voice that made last night an evening I won't forget.

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