13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th 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 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.

SpongeBob SquarePants Spin-Offs Are Coming to Nickelodeon

PARAMOUNT PICTURES and VIACOM INTERNATIONAL INC
PARAMOUNT PICTURES and VIACOM INTERNATIONAL INC

Are you ready for the SpongeBob SquarePants television universe?

The aquatic animated series, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, might soon be expanding into spin-offs if new Nickelodeon president Brian Robbins has his way. Speaking with Variety, Robbins expressed enthusiasm for opening up the SpongeBob mythology to include new series based on supporting characters.

“That’s our Marvel universe,” Robbins said. “You have this amazing show that’s run for almost 20 years.” Robbins speculated that new original shows could conceivably feature SpongeBob—the fry cook finding fun and adventure in the ocean city of Bikini Bottom—teaming with his friend Patrick or see characters like Sandy Cheeks and Plankton star in their own projects.

The strategy is part of Robbins’s goal to branch out into delivering more titles in the Nickelodeon library in order to compare with the deep well of content offered by streaming services like Netflix. Viewership across several family entertainment channels is down, with Nickelodeon seeing a 24 percent drop in its audience aged 2 to 11 in the fourth quarter of 2018 compared to the same timeframe in 2017. Cartoon Network and the Disney Channel suffered 37 percent and 30 percent drops, respectively.

Robbins believes more programming is part of the solution to retaining viewers. Rather than make a “zillion” episodes of one popular show, Robbins would prefer to see the channel grow into a more diverse programming lineup so people can binge a series and move on to the next.

In addition to more SpongeBob, Nickelodeon is also planning a CGI Paddington series for younger viewers inspired by the recent live-action films. Paddington and Paddington 2 actor Ben Whishaw—who recently won a Golden Globe for his work in A Very English Scandal—will again voice the bear. The network is also producing revivals of the popular 1990s hits Are You Afraid of the Dark? and All That.

[h/t Variety]

13 Things We Know About Stranger Things Season 3

Netflix
Netflix

[Warning: There are lots of Stranger Things season two spoilers ahead.]

Like we all hoped, Stranger Things season two turned out to be a worthy follow-up to the Netflix series' addictive debut season. Now, though, we’re left with plenty of questions, mysteries, and theories to chew on as we wait for season 3. But for everything we don’t know about what the next season of Stranger Things will bring us, there are more than enough things we do know to keep those fan theories coming. Here’s everything we know about Stranger Things season 3 so far.

1. It will premiere on Independence Day.

On December 31, 2018, Netflix decided to welcome in the new year by sharing that Stranger Things will return on July 4, 2019. The announcement—which featured footage from Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve 1985—could not have been more on-brand.

2. There will be another time jump.

The third season of Stranger Things won’t pick up right where the second one left off. Like the show experienced between the first two seasons, there will be a time jump between seasons two and three as well. The reason is simple: the child actors are all growing up. As the Duffer Brothers told The Hollywood Reporter in 2017:

“Our kids are aging. We can only write and produce the show so fast. They're going to be almost a year older by the time we start shooting season three. It provides certain challenges. You can't start right after season two ended. It forces you to do a time jump. But what I like is that it makes you evolve the show. It forces the show to evolve and change, because the kids are changing.”

3. There will be a total of eight episodes.

In January 2018, executive producer Shawn Levy told Glamour that season 3 would likely include eight or nine episodes, explaining that "The number of episodes will be dictated by the amount of story that excites us." Just a few months later, Levy told Collider that they had settled on eight episodes. And in December, Netflix released the episode titles.

4. It will be smaller in scale.

If the series’s second season was about expanding the Stranger Things mythology, the third season won't go bigger just for the sake of it, with the brothers even going so far as to say that it will be a more intimate story.

“It’s not necessarily going to be bigger in scale,” Matt Duffer told IndieWire. “What I am really excited about is giving these characters an interesting journey to go on.”

5. A lot of the action will go down at the local mall.

In July 2018, Netflix dropped a fun teaser for the third season (yes, that is Steve Harrington) that promoted Hawkins's new Starcourt mall. (Hey, it's the '80s!) Fans loved it—but also wondered whether it would be a place that we'll see in season 3. Indeed we will, and it will bring a different sort of look and feel to the show. "Aesthetically it's going to feel very different," Ross Duffer said. "Everyone is going to this new mall, seeing movies, and, of course, the Hawkins pool is open for business. I think there'll be a sense of fun and joy."

6. The Mind Flayer will be back.

The second season ended on a bit of a foreboding note when it was revealed that the Mind Flayer was still in the Upside Down and was seen looming over the Hawkins school as the winter dance was going on. Though we know there will be a time jump at the start of next season, it’s clear that the monster will still have a big presence on the show.

Executive producer Dan Cohen told TV Guide: "There were other ways we could have ended beyond that, but I think that was a very strong, lyrical ending, and it really lets us decide to focus where we ultimately are going to want to go as we dive into Season 3."

What does the Mind Flayer’s presence mean for the new crop of episodes? Well, there will be plenty of fan theories to ponder between now and the season 3 premiere.

7. It will be the "grossest" and most "brutal" season yet.

Noah Schnapp in Stranger Things
Netflix

While the cast and creators have remained tight-lipped about any key season 3 details, they have promised some scares. "While it's our most fun season, it also turns out to be our grossest season," Ross said. "We're inspired by John Carpenter's The Thing. We're inspired by [David] Cronenberg. We have a little bit of a George Romero vibe in there as well. There are horror movies and horror masters that we haven't really paid tribute to as much in previous seasons that we are definitely going to get into this season."

The cast has confirmed this sentiment. Natalia Dyer, who plays Nancy Wheeler, dubbed season 3 “bigger, darker, [and] scarier” than the first two. Noah Schnapp, who plays Will Byers, told MTV News the same, revealing that the “threat,” whatever it may be, is much more intense this time around. "Oh, yeah, the threat is ... it's brutal. It gets bad. It's very big," the 14-year-old actor said. "I feel like every season it kinda gets more—like it's taking over Hawkins."

8. Plenty of leftover season 2 storylines will be featured.

The Duffer Brothers had a lot of material for Stranger Things's second season—probably a bit too much. Speaking with Vulture, Matt Duffer detailed a few details and plot points that had to be pushed to season three:

"Billy was supposed to have a bigger role. We ended up having so many characters it ended up, in a way, more teed up for season three than anything. There was a whole teen supernatural story line that just got booted because it was just too cluttered, you know? A lot of that’s just getting kicked into season three."

9. There will be more Erica.

Priah Ferguson in Stranger Things
Netflix

Stranger Things already had a roster of fan-favorite characters heading into season two, but newcomer Erica, Lucas’s little sister, may have overshadowed them all. Played by Priah Ferguson, Erica is equal parts expressive, snarky, and charismatic. And the Duffer Brothers couldn’t agree more, saying that there will be much more Erica next season.

“There will definitely be more Erica in Season 3,” Ross Duffer told Yahoo!. “That is the fun thing about the show—you discover stuff as you’re filming. We were able to integrate more of her in, but not as much you want because the story [was] already going. ‘We got to use more Erica’—that was one of the first things we said in the writers’ room.”

“I thought she’s very GIF-able, if that’s a word,” Matt Duffer added. “She was great.”

10. Expect Kali to return.

The season two episode “The Lost Sister” was a bit of an outlier for the series. It’s a standalone episode that focuses solely on the character Eleven, leaving the central plot and main cast of Hawkins behind. As well-received as Stranger Things season two was, this episode was a near-unanimous miss among fans and critics.

The episode did, however, introduce us to the character of Kali (Linnea Berthelsen), who has the ability to manipulate people’s minds with illusions she creates. Despite the reaction, the Duffers felt the episode was vital to Eleven’s development, and that Kali won’t be forgotten moving forward.

“It feels weird to me that we wouldn’t solve [Kali’s] storyline. I would say chances are very high she comes back,” Matt Duffer said at the Vulture Festival.

11. Other "numbers" might show up.

Millie Bobby Brown in Stranger Things
Jackson Lee Davis, Netflix

We're already well acquainted with Eleven, and season two introduced us to Eight (a.k.a. Kali), and Levy heavily hinted to E! that there are probably more Hawkins Laboratory experiments on the horizon.

"I think we've clearly implied there are other numbers, and I can't imagine that the world will only ever know Eleven and Eight," Levy said.

12. There might not be many seasons left.

Don’t be in too much of a rush to find out everything about the next season of Stranger Things; there might not be many more left. The Duffer Brothers have said in the past that the plan is to do four seasons and end it. However, Levy gave fans a glimmer of hope that things may go on a little while longer—just by a bit, though.

“Hearts were heard breaking in Netflix headquarters when the Brothers made four seasons sound like an official end, and I was suddenly getting phone calls from our actors’ agents,” Levy told Entertainment Weekly. “The truth is we’re definitely going four seasons and there’s very much the possibility of a fifth. Beyond that, it becomes I think very unlikely.”

13. Cary Elwes and Jake Busey have joined the cast.

The cast of Stranger Things is growing for season three, and two of the most high-profile additions announced so far are Cary Elwes and Jake Busey. Elwes—of The Princess Bride and Robin Hood: Men in Tights fame—will be playing Mayor Kline, who is described as "Your classic ’80s politician—more concerned with his own image than with the people of the small town he governs." All we know about Busey’s character is that he’ll be named Bruce and is described as "a journalist for the The Hawkins Post, with questionable morals and a sick sense of humor."

In March, it was also announced that Maya Hawke, daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, landed a role in the upcoming season. According to Variety, she’ll play an "'alternative girl' bored with her mundane day job. She seeks excitement in her life and gets more than she bargained for when she uncovers a dark secret in Hawkins, Ind."

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