An auction in New York to bring Nina Simone's house back to life

New York auction to bring Nina's house back to life Simone


A place to keep the memory of Nina Simone alive: Artists in New York have auctioned off their works to turn the soul diva and civil rights activist's birthplace into a cultural site , with the support of Venus Williams. 

The abode, a modest pillared house with front porch and wood-plank facades, is nestled on a hillside in the small township of Tryon, in a rural county of North Carolina, in the southeastern United States.

It was on sale in 2017 when four artists, Julie Mehretu, Ellen Gallagher, Rashid Johnson and Adam Pendleton, bought it back for $95,000 so that it wouldn't disappear.

“Nina Simone fought for an inclusive and diverse America,” says Adam Pendleton. Allowing “people to see and visit” his birthplace, “is a way of keeping his heritage, his music, alive for future generations”, he adds to AFP, inside the Pace Gallery in New York, where the works for sale were on display this week.

“First gesture”

“Over the past five years, we have raised $500,000,” used in part for initial consolidation and painting work, adds Brent Leggs, director of a specific program for African-American heritage at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. , which works with the artists.

But the 60 square meter house still needs funding to become a permanent site, open to visits and cultural events.

To give a boost, the artists brought together eleven works, including paintings by Cecily Brown or Sarah Sze, the sale of which will fuel the project.

The auctions, organized by Pace and Sotheby's, have been taking place on the internet since May 12 and until Monday. Brent Leggs hopes to raise $2 million, including a gala on Saturday night in New York, backed by tennis champion Venus Williams.

“It was Nina Simone's legacy that enabled to people like me to be visible”, assures in a video the first black player to become world number one.

Black Lives Matter

Nina Simone, whose songs make up the playlists of the Black Lives Matter movement, had a complex, often difficult relationship with the United States, where she was born in 1933, during racial segregation.

In the three-room home in Tryon, where she spent her early years with her parents and siblings, little Eunice Waymon—her real name—was steeped in music, starting the piano at age three, and excelling in piano lessons. “Miss Mazzie”, an English teacher who passed on her passion for Johann Sebastian Bach.

But her dream of becoming a classical concert performer was shattered at the front door of the Philadelphia Conservatory, a failure that she attributed all her life to racism.

Her career in the 1960s married the struggle for civil rights of African-Americans, sometimes with a radical speech, sometimes in songs, with “Mississippi Goddam”, response to the deadly burning of a church in Alabama by members of the Ku Klux Klan (1963), or with the poignant “Why? (The king of love is dead)”, which she performed three days after the assassination of Martin Luther King (1968).

She ended up leaving the United States and lived her last years in the south of France, where she died in 2003.

According to Brent Leggs, Tryon's house could be open to the public as soon as 2024. “Our country is starting to understand that we must preserve the whole of our history, and to recognize and celebrate the diversity of our country,” he added.

An exciting time for historic protection,” he said.