American Heritage: Nina Simone’s Childhood Home Comes With Legacy
The inimitable Nina Simone lived in Barbados, Liberia, Belgium, Switzerland and The Netherlands before she found her final home in the south of France. But for all the roaming and iconic music she made over the course of her tumultuous life, there’s still only one place where the woman known as “The High Priestess of Soul” was born and raised.
And that 600-square-foot house at 30 E Livingston St., Tryon, NC 28782 is for sale with a listing price of $65,000.
Simone’s house has a story worthy of one of America’s most enigmatic artists, and over the years more than $100,000 in improvements have been made in an effort to preserve her birthplace.
According to listing agent Cindy Viehman of Foothills Realty, owner Kipp McIntyre, a former museum curator and Polk County economic development planner, was moved to buy the home in 2005 to preserve the singer’s legacy. Simone, born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in 1933, lived in the house with her parents and seven siblings until she was around 12, Viehman said.
“They were going to tear it down to build a Habitat for Humanity house in its place,” Viehman said, but McIntyre instead unleashed a small army of local contractors and community members to strip what had been a rundown rental to its original 1930 form.
But after five years, McIntyre ran out of funds for the project and tried to sell the house for $175,000. Viehman said she took on the listing in 2010 and reduced the asking price to $143,000. The property has since seen several price cuts, including the last one in July to $65,000.
In an interview with Western North Carolina magazine, McIntyre talked about his commitment to the property and Simone’s legacy.
I’m trying to stick with three criteria: that the house always be known as the birthplace of Nina Simone, that it be protected in perpetuity and that it appears both inside and out as closely as possible to how it did in the 1930s. My hope is that out of sensitivity for the work that’s already been done, that will happen naturally and not be imposed …
If you really want to hear Nina Simone’s music in a new way, walk the two miles from this house to where she took piano lessons and walk back again. It will change the way you hear and interpret the lyrics. She did not choose those words haphazardly; she was drawing on her entire life experience, and that all started here.”
Viehman said tough economic times have stalled a push to give Simone’s Tryon, NC birthplace more resonance. A jazz festival has been talked about, and a CBS documentary about Simone is in the works, she said. That project is supposed to bring Simone’s only daughter, a Broadway actress who goes by the stage name Simone, to Tryon in the coming weeks, Viehman said.
Additionally, a biopic about Simone has gotten some publicity lately, with rumors that Zoe Saldana will replace Mary J. Blige in the project. The move has drawn criticism from many Simone fans, including her daughter, who said there are other African-American actresses who would better suit the weighty part of playing the part of the singer/activist.
Regardless of what happens to the biopic, which has been long anticipated, there’s still the matter of Simone’s childhood home. There’s no word whether her daughter will purchase the property to keep it part of the estate, but there’s little doubt that for all the places Simone went, and for all that she became, her memories of 30 E. Livingston were ever-present.
In her memoirs, Simone remembered the three-room, 600-square-foot home as a “big house” surrounded by a yard with a slide, swing and basketball hoop, along with a garden, a few chickens, a couple of hogs and a cow. According to West North Carolina writer John Elliston:
A three-room, 600-square-foot rectangle of beadboard inside and tin on top, it wasn’t big in the traditional sense, but it sheltered a huge talent. It was there that she became enraptured by music, listening to her mother sing (her first memory) and trying her hand at the pump organ when she was only two years old. At age six, she became her church’s pianist, and in short order, was known as Tryon’s ‘little prodigy.’”