Tennis superstar Venus Williams is raising funds to preserve the childhood home of legendary singer Nina Simone.
Williams, whose net worth is about $95 million, wants to restore Simone’s home through an online and in-person auction event, which will take place during a New York gala in mid-May.
Ironically, a childhood home Venus and sister Serena lived in in Florida is at risk of being lost amid father Richard Williams’ divorce from current wife. The home may soon hit the auction block.
Simone, who died in 2003 at the age of 70, was an iconic singer, songwriter, pianist who crossed musical genres from classical and jazz to blues and gospel. She was also a civil rights activist.
Simone wrote political charged songs in defiance of America racism; one of her most famous songs, “Mississippi Goddamn,” was partly inspired by the assassination of civil rights leader Medgar Evers and a church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, by white extremists that killed four young Black girls attending Sunday school, according to Biography.
She was a supporter of Malcolm X, and she received props from “radical Black leaders” like Stokely Carmichael that promoted Black nationalism and gave new meaning to the “Black power” movement.
Where Nina Grew Up
The three-room clapboard home where she grew up in Tryon, North Carolina, was bought in 2017 by a team of artists.
Adam Pendleton, Rashid Johnson, Julie Mehretu and Ellen Gallagher purchased it for $95,000, according to the Smithsonian Magazine.
The home was designated a “National Treasure” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2018. The American Cultural Heritage Action Fund has already raised nearly $500,000, the Smithsonian reported.
There have been several campaign efforts to preserve the home on 30 East Livingston St., including that of a former economic development director Kevin McIntyre who previously purchased the property in 2005 and lost it due to “money troubles.”
According to The New York Times, McIntyre had spent $100,000 of his own money to preserve the house.
Had it not been for Pendleton, Johnson, Mehretu, and Gallagher purchasing the home in 2017, the dilapidated house more than likely would have been demolished.
Enter Venus Williams
The house is in need of repairs, but instead of outright paying someone to revitalize the landmark, Williams and team are raising money at a curated benefit auction event at New York’s Pace Gallery from May 12 to 22.
A group of contemporary artists are willing to donate their work for a charitable cause, including Julie Mehretu, Rashid Johnson, Mary Weatherford, and Robert Longo, Hype Beast reported. Artworks to be sold in support of the Nina Simone Childhood Home preservation project will be on display at Pace Gallery, 540 West 25th St.
The bidding starts online at 11 a.m. EDT for the public, and it is spearheaded by the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The culminated sales will be presented at a gala dinner. They hope to raise $5 million. The money goes beyond restoration of the structure, Barron’s reported. The funds will also go to support interpretative and public programming and stable management.
“I’m so excited to be a part of this expansive project centering on the life and legacy of Nina Simone, who has been a huge inspiration for so many,” says Williams in a statement from the National Trust. “Each of the artists Adam [Pendleton] and I have selected for the auction has a unique, powerful voice, and we’ve been moved by their generosity and enthusiasm for this important cause.”
“Nina Simone is one of the most important musical artists of the 20th century,” Pendleton said. “I’m inspired to be able to protect her legacy by preserving her childhood home. Her music, her vision, cannot be forgotten.”
“Our partnership with the artists, Venus Williams, and Pace Gallery is a powerful demonstration of how art and preservation practice can join forces to permanently preserve Simone’s remarkable legacy,” said Brent Leggs, executive director of the fund and senior vice president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“Together, we will secure the home’s future and inspire a new generation of diverse leaders who will memorialize the places where Black history happened.”
Nina Simone’s Up and Down Fortunes
Although Simone was considered a musical genius and an outspoken advocate for cvil rights, but she had a troubled life personally and financially.
One of her biggest downfalls was not having the guidance of a manager or an agent, which led her to sign away the rights to her acclaimed album “Little Girl Blue,” released in 1959, Grunge reported.
The album’s popularity, including her sleeper hit “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” led her to get booked at big New York venues, but she admitted she missed out on making a fortune after selling her work for $3,000 to Bethlehem Records, The Guardian reported.
Bethlehem released a second album of compiled songs by Simone and two former label mates, Carmen McRae and Chris Connor, called “Nina Simone and Her Friends,” the same year as “Little Girl Blue.”
Distrustful of the American music industry, Simone lived a nomadic lifestyle throughout the ’70s and ’80s in Europe, leaving behind her husband, whom she later divorced, and a daughter they shared.
She had an estranged relationship with the daughter, from age of 14 and on.
Simone also lived in Barbados, moving there in 1971. After she did not pay taxes in the United States as a protest against the Vietnam War, an arrest warrant was for her arrest and she moved to Barbados.
According to her autobiography, “I Put A Spell On You: The Autobiography of Nina Simone” (1992), while there she had an affair with Prime Minister Errol Barrow. She also lived in Liberia.
Eventually Simone settled in France, singing and playing her songs to a French audience that she said, “have a lot of respect for serious artists,” according to Pitchfork.
Her shows in Paris, however, were not profitable. She made $300 per night and often performed to empty rooms. After going broke, she relocated to the Netherlands, and was under the care of her friend, Gerrit de Bruin. It was revealed that Simone was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
In late 2001, it was revealed she was battling breast cancer. She died in her sleep in 2003 at her home in Carry-le-Rouet, France.