Five years ago, artists Adam Pendleton, Rashid Johnson, Julie Mehretu, and Ellen Gallagher purchased Nina Simone’s childhood home in Tryon, North Carolina, for $95,000. After several failed restoration attempts over the years, many worried the house would be demolished before the artists stepped in to safeguard Simone’s legacy. Along with with the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, Pace Gallery, and Sotheby’s, the artists have now partnered to host a fundraising benefit and art auction so Simone’s home can remain a national treasure for years to come.
Co-curated with tennis champion Venus Williams, the online auction will go live Friday, May 12 and run through May 22, with works by Pendleton, Gallagher, Johnson, Mehretu, Mary Weatherford, and Stanley Whitney, among others.
“Nina Simone is one of the most important musical artists of the twentieth century,” Pendleton said in a statement shared with Hyperallergic. “I’m inspired to be able to protect her legacy by preserving her childhood home. Her music, her vision, cannot be forgotten.”
The internationally acclaimed pianist and blues singer, known as the “High Priestess of Soul,” spent the first 17 years of her life in the clapboard three-room house. Here Simone, born Eunice Waymon, developed a passion for music from her mother, a Methodist preacher, and her father, who had worked as an entertainer earlier in his career. At age five, she became the pianist for the church where her mother preached, according to Simone’s estate. Two women recognized her immense talents and convinced Simone’s mother that the young prodigy needed formal piano lessons. Mrs. Muriel Mazzanovich, a local piano teacher, taught Simone and organized the Eunice Waymone Fund, supporting Simone’s debut recital at the Tryon Library in 1943 and her education at an all-girls boarding school in Asheville, North Carolina. In 1950, Simone left North Carolina for a summer program at Juilliard School in New York.
Since the National Trust designated the 650-square-foot home a national treasure in 2018, the organization’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund has worked with the artists, the Nina Simone Project, World Monuments Fund, and North Carolina African American Heritage Commission to fundraise for the restoration. So far, the Action Fund has raised $500,000 and hopes to raise an additional $5 million at the gala and action.
Detailed plans for the house’s renovation have not been finalized, but an August 2021 community engagement report outlined two potential directions for the project. The first option would renovate the home without adding modern conveniences such as indoor heating and electricity, with the house primarily functioning as a site for pilgrimages or tours and any additional artistic or cultural programming occurring at an offsite location. The second concept would expand the current structure with an addition built onto the existing home to allow for modern upgrades while maintaining the home’s integrity. The artists have also hinted at a potential artist-in-residence program for emerging Black artists.