Leah Hampton at Guernica:
Though most people associate Nina Simone with the jazz clubs of New York and Paris, she grew up here, in rural Appalachia. Her home is only a few miles from my mother’s house, in an area that is more genteel and diverse than the rest of the region. In western North Carolina, where Nina Simone was raised, and where I still live, we don’t mine coal. We grow apples. While Appalachia technically stretches across thirteen states, its core starts here in Tryon and ends somewhere in West Virginia. Coal country may get more attention, but Tryon is wholly Appalachian, too, and it was in these foothills south of Asheville where Simone learned classical piano from a local teacher, Muriel Mazzanovich. “Miss Mazzy” organized concerts to raise money for Simone’s tuition at a prestigious Black high school in Asheville. Eventually, her neighbors raised enough to send her to Juilliard for a summer. The rest of Simone’s life is much better known—her legendary musical career, her protracted battles with racism, mental illness, and a fickle public. But first, there was East Livingston Street in Tryon, and that rolling, crazy-magic landscape.