In a complete departure from our usual Historical Shelters leitmotif of showing an incredible historical home available for purchase, this weekend we’re going to show you an incredible effort to save a historic home.
Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina, in 1933, the young girl that would become Nina Simone lived in a three-room, 660 square-foot clapboard house for part of her childhood — there were six children in the Waymon family, so three rooms would be a tight fit. It was in this house that she taught herself to play on the upright piano at age three.
It was there that Tryon residents became aware of her talent and convinced her mother to allow her to take piano lessons from a resident who was classically trained. It was that early recognition of her talent that set her on a path toward Julliard, a career that transcended genre and country, and 15 Grammy nominations.
Tryon was also the place where she got her first confrontations with racial discrimination, too.
“Looking back, Nina Simone’s childhood life in Tryon didn’t just shape her musically; it was also where she experienced the racial discrimination that shaped her worldview and eventually propelled her as a voice of the Civil Rights Movement,” the National Trust for Historic Preservation wrote. “Once such instance is when Simone’s parents were forced to give up their seats to white audience members at her debut recital. Even though she was only eleven, Simone found her voice and refused to play until her parents were returned to their rightful place in the front row.”
Nowadays, that clapboard house has been snatched from the precipice of the grave. Just two years ago, it appeared it was headed for demolition, but four New York-based artists — Adam Pendleton, Rashid Johnson, Ellen Gallagher, and Julie Mehretu — pulled the $95,000 together to purchase it so it could be saved.
Now it is the subject of a collaborative effort between those same artists, the Eunice Waymon-Nina Simone Memorial Project, the African American Heritage Commission, and the Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund to develop a plan to rehab the home, stabilize it, and eventually identify a future use for the building.
The fundraising effort has surpassed its initial $25,000 goal, but the Trust says there is actually a need more funding to continue the repairs and stabilization.