Nina Simone's first-remembered act of moral resistance occurred at one of her concerts when she was 12. Her proud parents, who were seated in the front row, were told to move to the back so that white attendees could have their seats. Nina, incensed, refused to continue playing until they were given back their rightful place. From then on, her career was marked by vocal, tenacious challenges to inequality.
Despite harm to her viability as a popular artist, she created some of the most memorable songs of the civil rights era, including "Mississippi Goddamn" and "To Be Young, Gifted, and Black." In addition, she took part in the Selma to Montgomery marches. She was also one of the first celebrities to embrace her natural hair texture, wearing everything from an afro to a modified hi-top fade. Although commercial success frequently eluded her, many of her songs are now standards of the jazz and soul canons, and she lived to see a resurgence in her popularity during the 1990's.
Her personal life was as tumultuous as her career, and she lived in Barbados, Liberia, the Netherlands, and Switzerland before settling in France, where she passed away after a protracted battle with breast cancer in 2003. We have Nina to thank not only for her music and her style, but for her unwavering sense of fairness and her compelling calls to action. She's an excellent example of someone who refused to be a bystander to injustice and persecution — something we could use a little more of these days.