The childhood home of Nina Simone is a“National Treasure,” declared such by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The trust will bring its nearly 70 years of expertise to develop and implement a new use the property, purchased recently by four African-American artists to celebrate Simone’s legacy.
The campaign is a part of the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, an initiative with the Ford Foundation and actress Phylicia Rashad to uncover and uplift stories of African-American achievement, activism and community.
“Nina Simone’s distinctive voice and social critique in the mid-20th century was unlike anything America had ever heard before,” said Stephanie Meeks, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “And while her musical and social justice legacy burns bright, her childhood home has been neglected. We’re delighted to work with the home’s new owners and the local community to chart a new future for the property that will honor her tremendous contributions to American society and inspire new generations of artists and activists to engage with her legacy.”
Simone was born Eunice Waymon in 1933 in Tryon, North Carolina, which is where she taught herself the piano at age 3, performed in public for the first time at the neighborhood church where her mother preached, and where she experienced the constraints placed on black females in the rural Jim Crow South — a theme that would deeply inform her music and political activism.
In recent years, the three-room, 660-square foot clapboard pier and beam house had fallen in disrepair and the vacant property was put on the market in 2016.
Alarmed by the condition of the home and the risk of losing this connection to Nina Simone, four visual artists —conceptual artist and painter Adam Pendleton, the sculptor and painter Rashid Johnson, the collagist and filmmaker Ellen Gallagher and the abstract painter Julie Mehretu — purchased the property in 2017.
“Last year, my fellow artists and I felt an urgent need to rescue Nina Simone’s childhood home — a need sprung from a place of political activism as well as civic duty,” said Pendleton. “A figure like Nina Simone — an African-American woman from a small town in North Carolina who became the musical voice of the civil rights movement — is extraordinarily relevant to artists working today. She constantly expressed her commitment to the democratic values our country espouses by demanding that we live up to them. We are honored to partner with the National Trust to further protect her legacy.”
Working in partnership with the property owners, the local community, the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission and World Monuments Fund, the National Trust will:
• Seek new protections.
• Evaluate preservation needs.
• Conduct market and feasibility studies to develop a sustainable new use for the home.
“The artistic and social impacts of Nina Simone reach every corner of the world and her birthplace is an important symbol of that legacy,” said Joshua David, president and CEO, World Monuments Fund.
He added, “We are proud to join forces with the National Trust and other partners to underscore the global cultural significance of the Nina Simone House and help ensure it can become a beacon for future generations.”
“Standing for something one believes in often requires great courage in the face of harsh criticism and judgment,” said Simone’s daughter, Lisa. “My mother chose to be an outspoken warrior for that which she believed in. Her birthplace now being named a National Treasure is confirmation that no effort put forth, with true authenticity, goes unnoticed. As her only child, it brings me great joy to see my mother, Dr. Nina Simone, honored and remembered as mightily as she lived.”
The National Treasure dedication was celebrated in Tryon, North Carolina, June 19 with guided tours of the home, remarks by representatives from the Trust and the ownership group, and culminating with a free live concert.