It’s not uncommon for people to have somewhat complicated relationships with their mothers-but that bond is trickier when your mom is musical icon Nina Simone. Born Lisa Stroud in New York City, the singer known as Simone was raised under the shadow of the late, great diva and changed her name to honor her mother’s legacy. This despite the fact that Simone’s mother didn’t initially support her daughter’s musical career ambitions. “Most of us didn’t always get along with our parents,” says Simone. “She was excited about my talent, but didn’t want me, as her only child, to endure the struggles, betrayals, and mishaps she experienced. So it was kind of a bittersweet thing.
In 1982, after initially planning to become a lawyer, Simone joined the Air Force, where a chance offer to sing onstage led to an awakening about her true calling. She then landed roles in touring productions of Jesus Christ Superstar and Rent, and earned a Grammy nomination as part of the acid-jazz group Liquid Soul, before returning to New York City to appear on Broadway in Aida, in 2000. This month, her first album, Simone on Simone (High Priestess/Koch), will be released. While some children of stars might choose to debut with a more personal musical statement, Simone is stepping out with a tribute to her mother. “I’m not intimidated by the fact that I’m my mother’s daughter. I’m proud of it. I don’t feel like I need to establish my own identity. I’m already pretty secure with that.”
Today, Simone lives in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains region with her husband and her 8-year-old daughter. She occasionally performs with a group called Daughters of Soul, which includes the children of Chaka Khan, George and Gwen McCrae, and Donny Hathaway. “I found that we all have one thing in common-pain,” she says. “Whether it’s something we talk about or not, it’s not easy being the child of a star.”
“My mother’s first love, without a doubt, was her music,” says Simone. “It didn’t mean that she didn’t love me. But now that I’m a mother following so closely in her footsteps, I understand what she had to go through, and I choose to make different choices.