The Improbable Story of How Nina Simone’s Childhood Home Was Saved

Singer, pianist, songwriter, and civil rights activist Nina Simone, who died in 2003, made a lasting impact on the U.S., and now four artists are working to make sure her legacy lives on by saving her childhood home in Tryon, North Carolina. The home, a three-room, 660-square-foot clapboard pier and beam house, is where Simone—born Eunice Waymon—taught herself to play piano by ear at the age of three. It had been vacant for 20 years, until going on the market in December 2016. That’s when artist Adam Pendleton received an email from Laura Hoptman, a curator of contemporary art at The Museum of Modern Art, letting him know that Simone’s childhood home was for sale. “Laura and her husband, Verne Dawson, are connected to that part of western North Carolina,” says Pendleton. “She asked if I knew anyone who might be interested in purchasing the home. My initial reaction was to brainstorm and think of people who might have an interest in saving this historical site.” When Hoptman mentioned that she had also emailed artist Rashid Johnson, Pendleton had an epiphany. “I had an aha moment and said, ‘Wait a minute, we could purchase this house together. It could be a collective act, a collective gesture.’” With Johnson on board, they recruited artists Ellen Gallagher and Julie Mehretu. “We both agreed that it would be a more meaningful gesture if other artists were involved,” he says. Together the artists purchased the home for $95,000 in March 2017.

Pendleton says the timing of the sale played a role in his desire to help save the house. “At that particular moment, which was right after the election, I was asking myself very critical questions about American culture and what it is,” he says. “I think Nina Simone is an integral part of American culture and how complicated and rich it is. I really wanted to do something to keep alive her music and also the ideas that she represents.”

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(Architectural Digest, 7/17/18)