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Princess Noire: The Tumultuous Reign of Nina Simone [Kindle Edition]

Nadine Cohodas
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Born Eunice Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina, Nina Simone (1933-2003) began her musical life playing classical piano. A child prodigy, she wanted a career on the concert stage, but when the Curtis Institute of Music rejected her, the devastating disappointment compelled her to change direction. She turned to popular music and jazz but never abandoned her classical roots or her intense ambition. By the age of twenty six, Simone had sung at New York City's venerable Town Hall and was on her way. Tapping into newly unearthed material on Simone's family and career, Nadine Cohodas paints a luminous portrait of the singer, highlighting her tumultuous life, her innovative compositions, and the prodigious talent that matched her ambition.
With precision and empathy, Cohodas weaves the story of Simone's contentious relationship with audiences and critics, her outspoken support for civil rights, her two marriages and her daughter, and, later, the sense of alienation that drove her to live abroad from 1993 until her death. Alongside these threads runs a more troubling one: Simone's increasing outbursts of rage and pain that signaled mental illness and a lifelong struggle to overcome a deep sense of personal injustice.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Cohodas follows her biography of Dinah Washington (Queen) with that of another prominent African-American jazz singer—although Nina Simone would bristle at that label, insisting from the very start of her career that her music was grounded in the classical. (Eunice Waymon only began performing in nightclubs as Nina Simone after a failed application to the Curtis Institute of Music.) If Cohodas is respectful of Simone's legacy, particularly the impact of songs like Mississippi Goddam and Young, Gifted and Black on the civil rights movement, she's also forthright about Simone's contentious relationship with audiences and critics, and the possible mental illness underpinning that turmoil. It seems as if every one of Simone's onstage outbursts is recounted, along with every review describing her as a very angry young woman or wishing she'd stop playing protest songs. One of the few areas in which Cohodas shows full deference to her subject is in brushing off rumors of lesbian relationships, although a passing comment that Simone was inexorably drawn to the playwright Lorraine Hansberry raises questions. For the most part, though, Simone's complex personality—arrogance and brilliance in equal measure—receives a long-overdue elaboration. B&w illus. throughout. (Feb. 2)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Born in 1933, Eunice Waymon was a musical prodigy, amazing North Carolina churchgoers with her piano playing beginning at age four. Serious, proud, and hardworking, she dreamed of becoming a classical pianist and only began performing her unique blend of classical, gospel, jazz, and pop when she took a nightclub gig to earn money for graduate school. Eunice’s spontaneous invention of her alter ego, Nina Simone, is evidence of her formidable capacity for improvisation, the lifeblood of her world-altering music and the skill that helped her survive the bloody turmoil of the civil-rights era. Cohodas infuses every scene with electrifying detail and penetrating insights into Simone’s struggles as an African American musician of phenomenal talent and exalted ambition. Cohodas provides gripping descriptions of Simone’s indelible music along with profoundly moving accounts of her commanding, increasingly militant, and eventually downright bizarre stage presence. From her regal demeanor to her friendships with James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry, courageous activism, and the tragedies that pushed Simone into mental illness, Cohodas chronicles every turn with precision and empathy. The result is a wrenching story of how racism can undermine even the most ascendant life, and a dramatic portrait of an uncompromising, audacious, and beleaguered musical genius of conscience. --Donna Seaman

Product Details

  • File Size: 1622 KB
  • Print Length: 457 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; 1 edition (February 1, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0073VZIOW
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #340,737 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Worthwile Biography, But Not The Best April 6, 2010
Nadine Cohodas' biography of Nina Simone is well researched, yet I find that the author paints an untrue picture of events that supposedly took place during some of Nina Simone's concert performances. Much is made of her erratic behaviour on stage, in one instance in a Billie Holiday Tribute that Simone took part in at the Hollywood Bowl. I have an audio tape of her complete performance. It was one of Nina's very greatest performances, yet the reader is led to belive that her appearance was a disaster. Cohoda's brief review of Simone's 1976 Montreux Jazz Festival appearance (which exists on DVD) makes one wonder if the author actually watched the entire performance. Too little attention is made of what made Nina Simone such an important and original artist. Her prolific recording activity and filmed performances should have been given more attention. I found another biography, "Nina Simone: Break Down and Let It All Out" by Sylvia Hampton, David Nathan, and Lisa Simone Kelly to be a more intersting read. This book does contain some fascinating photographs, though.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A TRUE ARTIST UNDER APPRECIATED March 1, 2010
Nina Simone has often been an enigmatic figure. A tremendously talented singer/musician and a recognized figure in the Civil Rights Movement, she often showed a troubling personality. Nadine Cohodas has done a wonderful job giving us a biography of this prominent lady. Born Eunice Waymon in North Carolina, when she was very young she started showing great musical talent. Usually she is classified as a jazz singer but Simone hated classifications. Her failure to be selected in to a prestigious musical school for being black set a feeling that would follower in her live. Now singing as Nina Simone in New York she became a huge performer and would enter into the world of the black intelligentsia. Soon her passion was the Civil rights Movement. But this book shouts out at the problems she had in life. Often she was perceived as having bad behavior with her audiences, and even friends. Turns out she was suffering from bipolar disorders and these were hidden from almost everyone until after her death. Cohodas does a good job writing about her life and giving us background on her mental issues.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars worth reading March 6, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A middlingly written account of the life of the great Nina Simone, not an unkind book, but not, for all its details about Nina's personal descent, an exceptionally engaged portrait. Cohodas fails to establish a tone with her writing, so that what might have been a warm sparkling telling instead trundles along, an account of moods and events. Prevented, of course, is a genuine reckoning with the interior legacy of one of music's modern masters. It's a disappointment ameliorated by spending time with Nina, pure and simple. But I would add that I saw Simone live probably fifty times in various performance settings, and though that's fifty times less what I'd have been happy to have seen and heard this woman and her ineffacable art, I yet know her better and deeper by that than this book gives me. Still, it's good once again to trace in the mind and memory Nina Simone, a gift of the gods to us that will never die.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The High Priestess of Soul December 9, 2013
I became a fan of Nina Simone as a teenager in the 60s after seeing her in concert on TV, much to the puzzlement of my friends who considered her 'uncool'. However, I've remained a fan although I never saw her live - I did have the chance to see her at the Bishopstock Festival in Devon UK in 2001 but by that time her voice had gone and I chose not to attend that night and to remember her through her records. There are several biographies of Nina, including an autobiography, which all seem to have their supporters and also their critics, this is the latest and so can draw on these previous memoirs together with fresh interviews to give a comprehensive overview of this unique artist. She wasn't really a jazz singer, a blues singer, a folk singer, a soul singer, a protest singer, a pop singer, a cabaret singer, a show singer or a classical pianist - although her work contained elements of all these genres, combined into Nina's own unclassifiable style.

When first skimming through the book I was a bit surprised that her performing career only began from pages 60-odd onwards but these early pages dealing with the lives of her parents and family and her own young life give an excellent context to her later life and also to the place of black people in America at that time. Nina emerges as a determined and very focussed child, who was opinionated and knew her place in the world from an early age (a foretaste of the diva she was to become in later years). Even in her earliest performances she didn't put up with what she considered disrespect but there are also instances of unreasonable behaviour even in her 20s which must have been early indications of the bipolar disorder that she was diagnosed with in later life.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Summation September 30, 2012
By Evie
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have always loved Nina Simone, as an artist. I am such a huge fan. I often wonder why her music affects me so deeply. Realistically, I don't think she has such a "great voice", but it reaches me still. I wouldn't have it any other way, for the types of music she expresses. Needless to say, I bought both books on her life. This one and the autobiography which she put together. "Princess Noire" really explained who and why she was the way she was. I had known of Nina's temperamental outbursts at times when performing; this book really explained why. I was very surprised. I really enjoyed this book, and highly recommend it for all her fans. I must add, that with all her faults I still love Nina!!
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More About the Author

Nadine Cohodas is the author of several books, most recently Queen: The Life and Music of Dinah Washington, which received an award for Excellence in Research in Recorded Jazz Music from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections. She lives in Washington, D.C.

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