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Nina Simone’s daughter celebrates her mother’s legacy

National Black Arts Festival presents a tribute to the High Priestess of Soul

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High priestess of soul Nina Simone was a true diva. Her imperious manner, both on and off stage, could intimidate audiences and critics alike. But daughter Simone, né Lisa Simone Kelly, hasn’t cowered under her mother’s shadow, even though Nina Simone initially opposed her decision to become a singer. “I’ve created my own path,” says the daughter, who still saw fit to pay tribute to her mother’s legacy with the release of her ’08 solo album, Simone on Simone. “It just so happens that I’m Nina Simone’s daughter as well. It gives me a huge foundation from which to leap.”

Simone, as she prefers to be called, started singing professionally in the early ’90s with touring productions of Jesus Christ Superstar and Rent before joining the Grammy-winning acid jazz group Liquid Soul in ’98. But she didn’t gain her mother’s approval until she appeared on stage with her at the Guinness Blues Festival in Dublin ten years ago.

“On the one hand, she was very proud of me,” Simone recalls.  “She would squeal and clap her hands together, and then in the next second she would raise her hands to her cheeks in horror, like ‘Oh my God, my baby, what are they going to do to her.’ ”

Simone saw the business close-up as she watched her father, Nina Simone’s manager Andrew Stroud, help her mother become the first top-billed female act to perform at Carnegie Hall in 1963. But the marriage didn’t survive. The couple split when daughter Simone was nine. “Because I was her only child, she didn’t want me to experience a lot of the challenges, frustrations and disappointments that she did,” she says. A year before her death, Nina got to see her daughter on Broadway in the starring role of the Tim Rice-Elton John version of Aida.

Though Simone intends to showcase more of her own vocal style and songwriting on a sophomore release scheduled for next year, she continues to pay homage to her mother as part of the Sing the Truth tour that features her singing with Nina Simone’s original band. “We have to give honor to the ones who walked before us,” she says. “And in so doing, we’re able to fly.”

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