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10 facts you didn't know about Nina Simone

Nina Simone wished she could downshift her singing career from artistic pursuit to mindless job, where it could be more about delivering sound than soul. She couldn't do it. Simone gave everything to her melodies, each syncopated, rambunctious, fully-charged musical numbers drenched in emotion. Whether the songs were about love, loss, or fighting for equality, they had to emerge from her heart, a task that took its toll on her mental and physical health over the years. Nina Simone remains one of the greatest performers who ever lived and it came at a price.

In What Happened, Miss Simone?, documentarian Liz Garbus (Bobby Fischer Against the World and Love, Marilyn) strings together never-before-seen archival footage, long-lost recordings, and talking head interviews with some of the singer's closest friends and family, to present an expansive look at Simone's life. The film debuted at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival this week. 

Here's what we learned after soaking up the impassioned doc:

Simone Dreamed of Becoming the First Black Classical Pianist

Growing up in the 1940s, Simone honed her musical skills by playing piano for the local church. The hobby blossomed into a passion when the community raised money for Simone to learn classical concertos from a white teacher. “This Bach — I liked him!” she says in Garbus's film. From that point on, Simone strove to become the world's first black classical pianist, applying to Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music after high school. She was rejected based on her race. Steadfast, she wound up at New York City's Julliard School of Music.

She Changed Her Name to Avoid Offending Her Religious Mother

To earn a living, Simone played piano at a restaurant in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The job had one requirement: The keyboard tunes needed vocals. Hers. Adding singing to her repertoire, Simone played every type of music under the sun — jazz, blues, and classical all mixing together — evolving into her unique sound. Worried that her new career turn may offend her mother back home, the musician, originally born Eunice Waymon, changed her name to “Nina Simone,” a combination of the Spanish word for “little girl” and French actress Simone Signoret' 

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