cover image I Put a Spell on You: The Autobiography of Nina Simone

I Put a Spell on You: The Autobiography of Nina Simone

Nina Simone, Stephen Cleary. Pantheon Books, $22 (181pp) ISBN 978-0-679-41068-3

Simone grew up during the Depression in a small North Carolina town where, thanks to a farsighted music teacher and caring neighbors who paid for her lessons, she was trained as a classical pianist. After attending Juilliard on a scholarship she was rejected by the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia (a setback she attributes to the fact that she is black), and she became a nightclub entertainer, singing and accompanying herself on the piano and, with her skillful improvisations of popular songs in classical style, quickly becoming a star. In the 1960s she joined the civil rights movement and became well known as a protest singer. Then, in the 1970s and '80s, disillusioned with the U.S., she went into self-imposed exile in Africa and Europe. Unfortunately, written with freelancer Cleary, her account of these later years, in which she concentrates on personal problems and a number of tiresome love affairs, lacks the interest of the early part of the book, which describes her unusual childhood and remarkable rise to fame. Photos not seen by PW. (Feb.)