Brand New Key

Members of the HOPE Crew paint Nina Simone’s home last year. 
Photo by Nancy Pierce/National Trust for Historic Preservation

Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon on Feb. 21, 1933, in Tryon, the “High Priestess of Soul” would have been 87 this month. Early in her career, the singer, songwriter, pianist, and Civil Rights activist renamed herself Nina Simone. Physically and emotionally, she left her once-segregated hometown far behind her, and indeed, so many hurdles have kept her childhood house from restoration that some fans suggest ghostly displeasure has been at play. But in 2017, the three-room house at 30 East Livingston St. was officially rescued from demolition, purchased by four African American visual artists — Rashid Johnson, Adam Pendleton, Ellen Gallagher, and Julie Mehretu. 

A year later, the property was deemed a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation (and Nina Simone was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). Last year, the National Trust Hands-on Preservation (HOPE) Crew, founded to train young people in preservation trades, sent members to replace damaged siding and paint the home. Also in 2019, Simone’s song “Mississippi Goddam” was added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry for its cultural significance.

And this year promises even bigger changes. Tiffany Tolbert, senior field officer with the Trust, tells Bold Life that exterior stabilization of the house will begin this spring, funded by the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina and led by local Mathews Architecture. “We are continuing to look at future uses of the home and site — [gathering] community input,” says Tolbert. “Details will be released after the beginning of 2020.”

— G.S.

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