In honor of African-American Music Appreciation Month (aka Black Music Month), the childhood home of legendary artist/civil rights activist Nina Simone is being designated as a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Concurrently, Simone’s home in Tryon, North Carolina will be the first music site to be restored by the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, an initiative with the Ford Foundation launched last November.
Notes Stephanie Meeks, president/CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, of the Simone announcement, “Nina Simone’s distinctive voice and social critique in the mid-20th century was unlike anything America had ever heard before. While her musical and social justice legacy burns bright, her childhood home has been neglected. We’re delighted to work with the home’s new owners and the local community to chart a new future for the property that will honor her tremendous contributions to American society and inspire new generations of artists and activists to engage with her legacy.”
Brent Leggs, director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, adds, “The National Trust for Historic Preservation will fill an important gap in our country’s cultural heritage landscape, inspire a new generation and further our vision of a stronger, more united America where all our stories are reflected in the places that surround us.”
Actor/director Phylicia Rashad will serve as both an advisor and ambassador for the Simone restoration campaign. Rashad is co-chair of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund’s National Advisory Council. Its membership is comprised of scholars, activists, elected officials, and philanthropists among others.
Work has not yet begun on Simone’s three-room clapboard home, which was put on the market in 2016. In severe disrepair, the vacant structure was purchased by four African-American visual artists in 2017: conceptual artist and painter Adam Pendleton, sculptor and painter Rashid Johnson, collagist and filmmaker Ellen Gallagher and abstract painter Julie Mehretu. According to Leggs, the National Trust will seek new protections, evaluate preservation needs and conduct market and feasibility studies to develop a sustainable new use for the property in close partnership with its owners, the local community and others.
“Our goal,” Leggs tells Billboard, “is to develop and execute a plan that will honor Simone’s legacy, secure the home’s future and inspire new generations of creators and preservationists. Black America’s culture is embodied in old places and the history they keep. By saving these places, we not only celebrate the tremendous impact that African Americans have made to the life of our nation— its politics, society, culture, arts, ideals. We transmit that impact to the present and the future.”
The National Treasure dedication of Simone’s home is being celebrated in Tryon today (June 19, 1 p.m.-9 p.m. ET). In addition to guided tours of the home, there will be remarks by representatives from the Trust and the ownership group with the day culminating in a free live concert.