13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 86th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. Nina Simone was her stage name.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. She had humble beginnings.


Getty Images

There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. She was book smart ...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... with the degrees to prove it.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. Her career was rooted in activism.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. One of her most famous songs was banned.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. She never had a number one hit.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. She used her style to make a statement.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. She had many homes.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. She had a famous inner circle.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. You can still visit Simone in her hometown.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. You've probably heard her music in recent hits.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. Her music is still being performed.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

This article originally ran in 2018.

8 Surprising Facts About Eddie Murphy

David Shankbone via Flickr // CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons
David Shankbone via Flickr // CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Few entertainers have enjoyed the kind of success comedian Eddie Murphy has had. Born in Brooklyn, New York on April 3, 1961, Murphy originally found fame on Saturday Night Live, then went on to dominate the box office throughout much of the 1980s with hits like 48 Hrs., Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop I and II, The Golden Child, Eddie Murphy: Raw, and Coming to America, which went unrivaled in Hollywood. Switching from his trademark role of a streetwise, fast-talking fish out of water, Murphy moved on to a string of successful family comedies (The Nutty Professor, Doctor Dolittle) in the 1990s and beyond.

Having taken some time off following the lukewarm reception to Bruce Beresford's 2016 drama Mr. Church, in which Murphy starred, the 58-year-old is coming back into the spotlight with the Netflix biopic Dolemite Is My Name, a return to Saturday Night Live (on December 21), and a sequel to Coming to America (coming in December 2020). The actor also plans on a return to stand-up comedy after a 32-year hiatus. In the meantime, check out some lesser-known facts about Murphy’s life and career, including his plans for a cartoon series and an idea to cross paths with Crocodile Dundee.

1. Eddie Murphy wasn’t always live on Saturday Night Live.

Eddie Murphy stars in 'Dolemite Is My Name' (2019)
Eddie Murphy stars in Dolemite Is My Name (2019).
François Duhamel, Netflix

After enjoying success as a stand-up comedian, Murphy arrived on Saturday Night Live in 1980 at age 19, where he spent four seasons drawing renewed interest to the show that had once been declared “Saturday Night Dead” by critics following the departure of original cast members Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and John Belushi, and series creator Lorne Michaels. By the time Murphy was ready to depart the show in 1984 to pursue feature films—1982’s 48 Hrs. and 1983’s Trading Places had been hits—SNL's producers were so desperate to hold on to their star attraction that they offered Murphy a deal to essentially stick around for a portion of the 1983-1984 season. Murphy would appear live in studio in 10 of the 20 scheduled shows and tape 15 sketches that they could insert throughout the season.

“We basically just did a private show that was one Eddie sketch after another that we taped with a studio audience,” writer Pam Norris told Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller for their 2002 book, Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers, and Guests. “And then those were later put into the shows.”

2. Eddie Murphy hosted Saturday Night Live while he was still a cast member.

Before departing SNL, Murphy was scoring box office hits, including his debut in 1982’s 48 Hrs. His co-star, Nick Nolte, was scheduled to host SNL on December 11 to promote that film. When Nolte fell ill the week of the show, Murphy was selected to host at the last minute—the only time a then-current cast member took over hosting duties. “This summer, Nick and I had the opportunity to work together in a motion picture called 48 Hrs.,” Murphy told the audience during his introduction. “Uh, Nick and I grew together, and Nick taught me a lot about myself, and a lot about acting, and he’s a real great guy. You know, we were sitting around in Paramount’s lot this summer, and I said, ‘Nick, why don’t you come and host Saturday Night Live?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, sure, Eddie, anything for you.’ That’s the kind of guy Nick was. When Nick got here, got off the plane, he vomited on my shirt. And we realized Nick was too sick to do the show. And that’s too bad, because Nick was gonna be in some real great stuff tonight. But I know you folks tuned in to see one of the stars of 48 Hrs. host the show, and dammit, you’re gonna see it. ‘Cause I’m gonna host the show. Live, from New York, it’s the Eddie Murphy Show!”

3. Fred Rogers liked Eddie Murphy’s impression of him.

While on Saturday Night Live, Murphy repeatedly returned to a sketch character named Mister Robinson, a less-than-wholesome version of Mister Rogers. Rather than be dismayed by the parody, Rogers was reportedly very amused by it. He once visited Murphy at Rockefeller Center where SNL was broadcast and met Murphy in his dressing room to congratulate him on the character.

4. There was almost an Eddie Murphy Saturday morning cartoon.

In 1987, at the height of Murphy’s powers in the entertainment industry, he was nearly granted one of the biggest honors of any performer: his own Saturday morning cartoon series. Murphy was reportedly in discussions with Hanna-Barbera for a series—the premise was never disclosed—that would presumably have offered a G-rated interpretation of his comic sensibilities.

The idea was not without precedent. One of Murphy’s comic inspirations, the similarly adult-oriented Richard Pryor, headlined Pryor’s Place, a children's show that ran on CBS for one season beginning in 1984. The untitled Murphy production never saw the light of day, though Murphy did eventually find his way back in the Hanna-Barbera fold. He was set to voice the title character in Hong-Kong Phooey, a live-action and computer-animated adaptation of the ‘70s cartoon featuring a martial arts-proficient dog, in 2011. That project was also shelved.

5. Eddie Murphy’s Beverly Hills Cop character almost met Crocodile Dundee.

Eddie Murphy stars in 'Beverly Hills Cop' (1984)
Eddie Murphy stars in Beverly Hills Cop (1984).
Paramount Home Entertainment

Released in 1984, Beverly Hills Cop was a gigantic hit, with its $235 million in ticket sales beating even Ghostbusters to become America's highest grossing film of the year. Murphy starred as Axel Foley, a Detroit police detective whose investigation of his friend’s murder leads him to a culture clash in Beverly Hills. The film spawned two sequels in 1987 and 1994. For the third installment, Paramount kicked around the idea of teaming Murphy’s Foley with Paul Hogan’s Crocodile Dundee character, the star of his own fish-out-of-water franchise. The idea was suggested by Brandon Tartikoff, Paramount’s then-president. Another idea would have Foley in London and working with a Scotland Yard inspector played by Sean Connery. The 1994 film ultimately featured Foley attempting to solve his boss’s murder and chasing a lead back to an amusement park in California.

6. Eddie Murphy shot a Beverly Hills Cop television pilot.

Though the Beverly Hills Cop sequels were not as well-received as the original, the role was still important to both Paramount and Murphy. In 2013, the studio launched a pilot for a television series that would see Foley become the chief of police in Detroit and spar with his cop son, Aaron Foley (Brandon T. Jackson). Murphy appeared in the pilot and was expected to recur throughout the series, but CBS failed to pick it up. Murphy is now expecting to shoot a fourth Beverly Hills Cop feature film once he finishes the Coming to America sequel.

7. Eddie Murphy has a deep vault of music he’s recorded.

Though he drew a mixed response to his musical albums in the 1980s, Murphy has never stopped recording music. Following the release of “Party All the Time,” the performer has been steadily using home recording studios to produce material. Speaking with Netflix’s Present Company podcast in 2019, Murphy said there are a lot of songs left unreleased. “I’ve never stopped doing music … I stopped putting it out, though, because the audience gets weirded out by it. And I don’t want to be that guy.”

8. Barack Obama may have gotten him back into stand-up.

Murphy is expected to return to stand-up comedy beginning in 2020, a move that may be the result of a massive $70 million Netflix deal. But according to Murphy, resuming that career might be the product of a meeting with Barack Obama. He met up with the President in 2015, when Murphy was accepting the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Obama asked when he would be doing comedy again. “When you go into the Oval Office and the President asks when you are doing stand-up, it’s time to do some jokes,” Murphy said.

15 Fascinating Facts About Candyman

PolyGram Filmed Entertainment
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) is a Chicago graduate student with a deep fascination with urban legends, which she and her friend Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons) are using as the basis for a thesis project. After they stumble across the local legend of Candyman, a well-to-do black artist who fell in love with a white woman in the late 1800s and was murdered for it, Helen wants to learn more. When she’s told that Candyman still haunts Chicago's Cabrini-Green housing project, and that his spirit can be summoned by repeating his name into a mirror five times, Helen does just that … and all hell breaks loose.

What began as a low-budget indie film has morphed into a contemporary classic of the horror genre, and essential Halloween viewing. In 1992, English filmmaker Bernard Rose—who got his start working as a gopher on The Muppet Show—turned Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden” into Candyman. Here are 15 things you might not have known about Candyman.

1. Eddie Murphy was considered for the lead in Candyman.

Though the role of Candyman turned Tony Todd into a horror icon, he wasn’t the only actor in consideration for the film’s title role: Eddie Murphy was also reportedly a contender for the part. Though it’s unclear exactly why he wasn’t cast, sources have reported that it had to do with everything from his height (at 5 feet 9 inches, he wouldn’t seem nearly as intimidating as the 6-foot-5 Todd) to his salary demands.

2. An unexpected pregnancy landed Virginia Madsen the lead.

Virginia Madsen stars in 'Candyman'
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

When asked by HorrorNewsNetwork about how she got the role of Helen in Candyman, Virginia Madsen shared that it was almost by accident: She was supposed to play Bernie, Helen’s friend and classmate, the role that eventually went to Kasi Lemmons.

“I was actually very good friends with Bernard [Rose] and his wife Alexandra,” Madsen said. “She is a wonderful actress, who actually brought Clive Barker’s short story ‘The Forbidden’ to her husband. She thought this would be a great film, and he could direct her. She was supposed to be Helen. I was going to play [Kasi Lemmons'] part, until they made the character African American. Then I was out.

“Right before shooting, Alexandra found out she was pregnant. It was great for me, but it was so sad for her because this was her role; she found this story and really wanted it. So when I was asked to step in I felt like ‘I can’t take my friend’s role.’ She actually came over one day and said ‘It would just kill me to see someone else play this role, you have to be the one who plays it.’ So with her blessing I took on the role. I really tried to work my butt off just to honor her.”

3. Candyman could have starred Sandra Bullock.

On the film’s DVD commentary, producer Alan Poul said that had Madsen been unable to step into the role of Helen, the part would have likely been offered to Sandra Bullock, who was still a relative unknown actress at that point. Though she had played the role of Tess McGill in the television adaptation of Working Girl, she was still a couple of years away from Speed (1994), the role that launched her into stardom.

4. Candyman's title sequence was groundbreaking.

The film’s opening credits feature a great aerial view of Chicago, which was pretty revolutionary for its time. “We did that with an incredible new machine called the Skycam, which can shoot up to a 500mm lens with no vibration,” Rose told The Independent. “You've never seen that shot before, at least not done that smoothly.”

5. Not all of the film's creepy details sprung from Clive Barker's imagination.

While investigating one of Candyman’s crime scenes, Helen and Bernie discover that the design of the apartment’s medicine cabinet made it a possible point of entry for an intruder. This was not a made-up piece of horror movie fiction: While researching the film, Rose learned that a series of murders had been committed in Chicago in this very way.

6. Bernard Rose sees Candyman as a romantic figure.

Tony Todd stars in 'Candyman'
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

Viewers may think of Candyman as one of the horror genre’s most terrifying villains, but Rose said that “the idea always was that he was kind of a romantic figure. And again, romantic in sort of the Edgar Allan Poe sense—it's the romance of death. He's a ghost, and he's also the resurrection of something that is kind of unspoken or unspeakable in American history, which is slavery, as well. So he's kind of come back and he's haunting what is the new version of the racial segregation in Chicago.

“And I think there's also something very seductive and very sweet and very romantic about him, and that's what makes him interesting. In the same way there is about Dracula. In the end, the Bogeyman is someone you want to surrender to. You're not just afraid of. There's a certain kind of joy in his seduction. And Tony was always so romantic. Tony ties him in so elegantly and is such a gentleman. He was wonderful.”

7. The bees in the film were bred specifically to appear onscreen.

No, that is not CGI! The bees that play a key role in Candyman are indeed real. So that they looked appropriately terrifying, but were less dangerous to the cast and crew, the filmmakers used newborn bees—they were just 12 hours old—so that they looked fully grown, but had less powerful stingers.

8. Tony Todd was stung 23 times, and got a bonus each time it happened.

Photo of Tony Todd in 'Candyman'
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

In addition to allowing the filmmakers to cover his face with bees, Todd actually agreed to film a scene in which he had a mouthful of bees—and that, too, was all real. He told TMZ that he wore a dental dam to prevent any bees from sliding into his throat—which doesn’t mean that he didn’t suffer a sting or two … or 23, to be exact, over the course of three Candyman movies. Though it might have been worth it. “I had a great lawyer,” he told TMZ. “A thousand dollars a pop.”

9. The bees weren't great news for Virginia Madsen.

Madsen, too, had to get up close and personal with those bees—a fact that almost forced her to pass on the role. “When Bernie was first asking me to do the role I said, ‘Well, I can’t. I’m allergic to bees,’” she told HorrorNewsNetwork. “He said ‘No you’re not allergic to bees, you’re just afraid.’ So I had to go to UCLA and get tested because he didn’t believe [me]. I was tested for every kind of venom. I was far more allergic to wasps. So he said, ‘We’ll just [have] paramedics there, it will be fine!’ You know actors, we’ll do anything for a paycheck! So fine, I’ll be covered with bees.

“So we a had a bee wrangler and he pretty much told us you can’t freak out around the bees, or be nervous, or swat at them, it would just aggravate them. They used baby bees on me. They can still sting you, but are less likely. When they put the bees on me it was crazy because they have fur. They felt like little Q-tips roaming around on me. Then you have pheromones on you, so they’re all in love with you and think you’re a giant queen. I really just had to go into this Zen sort of place and the takes were very short. What took the longest was getting the bees off of us. They had this tiny ‘bee vacuum,’ which wouldn’t harm the bees. After the scene where the bees were all over my face and my head, it took both Tony and I 45 minutes just to get the bees off. That’s when it became difficult to sit still. It was cool though, I felt like a total badass doing it.”

10. Philip Glass composed the score, but was disappointed in the movie.

When Philip Glass signed on to compose the score for Candyman, he apparently envisioned the final film being something totally different. According to Rolling Stone, “What he'd presumed would be an artful version of Clive Barker's short story ‘The Forbidden’ had ended up, in his view, a low-budget slasher.” Glass was reportedly disappointed in the film, and felt that he had been manipulated. Still, the haunting music is considered a classic score—and Glass’s own view of it seems to have softened over time. “It has become a classic, so I still make money from that score, get checks every year,” he told Variety in 2014.

11. Many of the film's scenes were shot at Cabrini-Green.

In 2011, the last remaining high-rise in the Cabrini-Green housing project was demolished. Over the years, the property—which opened in 1942—gained a notorious reputation around the world for being a haven for violence, drugs, gangs, and other criminal activities. While the project’s real-life history weaves its way into the narrative of Candyman, it only makes sense that Rose would want to shoot there. Which he did. But in order to gain permission to shoot on location, he had to agree to cast some of the residents as extras.

“I went to Chicago on a research trip to see where it could be done and I was shown around by some people from the Illinois Film Commission and they took me to Cabrini-Green,” Rose said. “And I spent some time there and I realized that this was an incredible arena for a horror movie because it was a place of such palpable fear. And rule number one when you're making a horror movie is set it somewhere frightening. And the fear of the urban housing project, it seemed to me, was actually totally irrational because you couldn't really be in that much danger. Yes, there was crime there, but people were actually afraid of driving past it. And there was such an aura of fear around the place and I thought that was really something interesting to look into because it's sort of a kind of fear that's at the heart of modern cities. And obviously, it's racially motivated, but more than that—it's poverty motivated.”

12. Candyman's producers were worried that the movie would be considered racist.

During pre-production, Candyman’s producers began to worry that the film might draw criticism for being racist, given that its villain was black and it was largely set in an infamous housing project. “I had to go and have a whole set of meetings with the NAACP, because the producers were so worried,” Rose told The Independent. “And what they said to me when they'd read the script was 'Why are we even having this meeting? You know, this is just good fun.' Their argument was 'Why shouldn't a black actor be a ghost? Why shouldn't a black actor play Freddy Krueger or Hannibal Lecter? If you're saying that they can't be, it's really perverse. This is a horror movie.'”

13. Still, some filmmakers complained that it was racist.

In a 1992 story in the Chicago Tribune, some high-profile black filmmakers expressed their disappointment that the film seemed to perpetuate several racist stereotypes. “There’s no question that this film plays on white middle-class fears of black people,” director Carl Franklin (Out of Time, Devil in a Blue Dress) said. “It unabashedly uses racial stereotypes and destructive myths to create shock. I found it hokey and unsettling. It didn't work for me because I don’t share those fears, buy into those myths.”

Reginald Hudlin, who directed House Party, Boomerang, and Marshall, described the film as “worrisome,” though he didn’t want to speak on the record about his specific issues with the film. “I've gotten calls about [the movie], but I think I'm going to reserve comment,” he said. “Some of my friends are in it and I may someday want to work for TriStar.”

For Rose, those assessments may have been hard to hear, as his goal in adapting Barker’s story and directing it was to upend the myths about inner cities. “[T]he tradition of oral storytelling is very much alive, especially when it's a scary story,” he told The Independent. “And the biggest urban legend of all for me was the idea that there are places in cities where you do not go, because if you go in them something dreadful will happen—not to say that there isn't danger in ghettos and inner city areas, but the exaggerated fear of them is an urban myth.”

14. Candyman is still the role that Virginia Madsen is most recognized for (especially at airports).

Kasi Lemmons and Virginia Madsen in 'Candyman'
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

Though she earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination in 2005 for Alexander Payne’s Sideways, in 2012 Madsen said that Candyman is still the role she is most recognized for—especially at airports.

“More people recognize me from that movie than anything I’ve done,” she told HorrorNewsNetwork. “It means a lot to me. It was after years of struggling. As an actor, you always want a film that’s annual, like It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story. I just love that I have a Halloween movie. Now it’s kind of legend this story. People have watched it since they were kids, and every Halloween it’s on, and they watch it now with their kids. That means a lot to me. The place I get recognized the most is the airport security for some reason. Every person in airport security has seen Candyman. Maybe it makes them a little afraid of me.”

15. There was an actual Candyman killer.

Though the Chicago-based legend of Candyman is a work of fiction, there was an actual serial killer known as “Candyman” or “The Candy Man.” Between 1970 and 1973, Dean Corll kidnapped, tortured, and murdered at least 28 young boys in the Houston area. Corll earned his sweet nickname from the fact that his family owned a candy factory.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER