Thursday, November 30, 2023

Venus Williams joins effort to save singer Nina Simone’s NC childhood home, group says

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Venus Williams has joined an effort to help save the historic North Carolina home of Nina Simone.

Venus Williams has joined an effort to help save the historic North Carolina home of Nina Simone.

Tennis star Venus Williams has joined an effort to help save the historic North Carolina home where music legend Nina Simone taught herself to play piano.

Williams is set to co-host a fundraiser in support of the home’s restoration, the nonprofit National Trust for Historic Preservation said March 13 in a news release.

“I’m so excited to be a part of this expansive project centering on the life and legacy of Nina Simone, who has been a huge inspiration for so many,” Williams said ahead of the event, which is scheduled for May 20.

The National Trust said the money will go toward the singer’s childhood home in Tryon, roughly 45 miles southeast of the mountain town of Asheville. “The three-room, 660-square foot clapboard house had fallen in disrepair” before a team of artists bought it in 2017.

Then in 2020, the organization announced a plan that would keep the home safe from destruction. It joined Preservation North Carolina and the World Monuments Fund to get a protection easement, which happens when a property owner agrees to maintain the character of a historic building, McClatchy News reported at the time.

“Easements are one of the most important tools we have to save places and their stories,” Myrick Howard, president of Preservation N.C., said in a 2020 news release. “We are beyond delighted and honored to be a part of preserving not just Nina Simone’s childhood home, but the powerful story of her roots in North Carolina.”

Simone was known as Eunice Waymon when she was born in Western North Carolina in 1933. The singer, who was Black, grew up during the period of racial segregation known as Jim Crow.

“In her childhood home, she developed a love for her piano and experienced racial discrimination that would shape her world view and social activism later in life,” the National Trust said on its website.

The musician later moved from Tryon and became known for having a voice that drew from gospel, classical and blues influences. She died in 2003, and in 2018, she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and served as an inspiration for other entertainers.

Now, the event planned for May 20 aims to raise money through a New York City gala and online auction. In addition to Williams, hosts include the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund and artist Adam Pendleton, part of the team that bought Simone’s house.

“Each of the artists Adam and I have selected for the auction has a unique, powerful voice, and we’ve been moved by their generosity and enthusiasm for this important cause,” Williams, who has 49 singles titles in tennis, said in the news release.

In a video announcing the event, Pendleton said: “I hope the house becomes a destination that people will travel to to get an authentic sense of where Nina came from and that from these humble beginnings, she became one of the most important musical artists of the 20th century.”

Read more about the event here.

Simone Jasper is a reporter covering breaking stories for The News & Observer and real-time news in the Carolinas.

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