Explore the History & Legacy of Nina Simone’s Childhood Home

The Birthplace of a Musical Icon

Published Thursday, May 4, 2023

In our new film, tennis champion, entrepreneur, and arts patron Venus Williams; artist Adam Pendleton; and Brent Leggs, Executive Director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, share how the legacy of musical icon and civil rights activist Nina Simone has inspired them ahead of our multifaceted benefit supporting the Action Fund's Nina Simone Childhood Home preservation project. Through this project, the Action Fund aims to restore Simone's birthplace in Tryon, North Carolina, which was jointly purchased by Pendleton, and artists Ellen Gallagher, Rashid Johnson, and Julie Mehretu in 2017 to safeguard the legacy of the home.

Nina Simone was born Eunice Waymon in a 650-square-foot, three-room, clapboard house in Tryon, North Carolina in 1933. In her childhood home, she developed a love for the piano and found some respite from the rampant racial discrimination that would shape her worldview and social activism later in life. Her mother was a devout Methodist preacher, and her father, who had worked as an entertainer early in his life, was an entrepreneur.


Photo by Nancy Pierce / National Trust for Historic Preservation

As a young girl, Simone accompanied her mother’s sermons, singing in the church choir and playing the piano during services. After hearing Simone—then age six—sing with the community choir at the Tryon Theater, two women convinced her mother that she needed formal piano lessons. One of these women, a local piano teacher named Muriel Mazzanovich, taught Simone at her house in Tryon for the next four years and organized the Eunice Waymon Fund to raise money for her training after she left for high school.

Many years later, when Simone’s childhood home had been vacant for some 20 years, it was in danger of demolition. Prior rehabilitation efforts were unsuccessful, and, when the house went up for sale again in 2017, four New York–based artists sprang into action. Adam Pendleton, Rashid Johnson, Ellen Gallagher, and Julie Mehretu came together, created an LLC, and bought the home for $95,000.

With leadership and guidance from the four artists, the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund—along with the Nina Simone Project, World Monuments Fund, and North Carolina African American Heritage Commission—is working to preserve Simone’s Tryon home. The Action Fund is developing a rehabilitation plan that aligns with the home’s potential future use; identifies future ownership and stewardship models for the site; and creates additional protections to ensure that this symbol of Simone’s early life and legacy will endure for generations to come.


Photo by Nancy Pierce / National Trust for Historic Preservation

From May 12-22, Pace, Sotheby’s, and the Action Fund will co-organize an auction—conducted by Sotheby’s and co-curated by Pendleton and Williams—featuring artworks donated by Cecily Brown, Ellen Gallagher, Johnson, Robert Longo, Mehretu, Pendleton, Martin Puryear, Sarah Sze, Mary Weatherford, Stanley Whitney, and Anicka Yi. This momentous fundraiser brings to fruition an unprecedented collaboration across the worlds of art, philanthropy, and historic preservation in support of the Nina Simone Childhood Home preservation project. On May 20, 2023, Pace will host a major benefit gala highlighting this watershed initiative.

Click here to learn more about the Nina Simone Childhood Home preservation project.

  • Films — Explore the History & Legacy of Nina Simone’s Childhood Home: The Birthplace of a Musical Icon, May 4, 2023