By Brianna Rhodes, Special to the AFRO
In honor of African American Music Appreciation Month, The National Trust for Historic Preservation announced June 19 that the childhood home of civil rights icon, musician and singer, Nina Simone, was named a National Treasure, the organization’s signature program.
The non-profit partners with communities to ensure the long-term preservation of nationally significant historic places and the stories they keep, according to Brent Leggs, director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund of the National Trust.
Simone’s three-room, 660-square foot childhood home is located in Tryon, North Carolina.
Through their partnership with The Nina Simone Project and four African-American artists who recently purchased the property, the National Trust will use its nearly 70 years of expertise to develop and enact a new use for nationally significant property through its National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund to preserve the childhood home. Nina Simone’s home is the first National Treasure music site.
“The reason that we designated the Nina Simone childhood home a National Treasure is because Nina Simone transcended the constraints society placed on Black female performers in the mid-20th century to become the voice of the American Civil Rights Movement,” Leggs said.
Leggs said Simone’s ability to diffuse classic piano and African rhythm, her frank expressions on racial and gender discrimination and Simone’s life and career embodied an unapologetic pursuit of musical, personal and political freedom.
“As an artist, it’s quite moving to be able to step in and support another artist whose work has meant so much to me throughout my life, both through a creative end and a political standpoint,” Adam Pendleton, conceptual artist, painter and co-owner of Nina Simone’s Home said.
“I can’t think of a better way to do that than to have a physical site that people can come and visit and engage and interact with and get a deeper sense of what made Nina who she was and who she is in our mind.”
Simone’s career spanned four decades, multiple genres and several continents. She has earned 15 Grammy nominations and her songs have been professionally covered and sampled more than 500 times. Simone was also recently inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
“Nina is a timeless talent and the fact that she was born within the boundaries of the geographical realm…that is Tryon is pretty significant to me,” Crys Armbrust, the executive director of The Nina Simone Project said.
“I am incredibly pleased that the Nina Simone’s childhood home has become an initiative of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and I think that today [June 19] marks a momentous day in the history of the organization,” Armburst added.
The National Trust will be working with the property owners of Simone’s home, the local community, the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission and World Monuments Fund, to seek new protections for the home and evaluate preservation needs, among other initiatives to develop a new use for the home.
“Standing for something one believes in often requires great courage in the face of harsh criticism and judgement,” said Simone’s daughter, Lisa Simone, according to a National Trust press release.
“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.”