TRYON, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – These days, it’s a mostly quiet site.
At the birthplace of Eunice Waymon, aka Nina Simone, we heard the sound of birds chirping and a lawn mower off in the distance.
That’s where we found Sammie Qualls, who maintains the lawn for free.
“Well, I think it’s part of the history of Tryon,” he told Queen City News.
His late wife was one of the singer’s childhood friends.
“But they used to go out and play,” Qualls said. “(Waymon’s) father would go somewhere, and they would start playing the blues, ha!”
The 650-square-foot house is part of the story of humble beginnings in western North Carolina.
Inside, the sheet music and piano are part of previous efforts to use the place as a museum. But there’s more work in store later this year.
Organizers of an art auction, including co-curator and tennis star Venus Williams, hope to raise millions for the project. Online bidding is now underway for the Nina Simone Childhood Home: Benefit Auction.
There’s also a gala planned at Pace Gallery in New York with a live performance from the acclaimed musician H.E.R.
As the icon’s birth certificate shows, she was born at the home more than 90 years ago. It’s in the tiny house where Simone first taught herself to play piano at the age of three.
Dr. Warren J. Carson, who worked for years on The Nina Simone Project in Tryon, says the little house on the Eastside was the launchpad for a legend.
“A prodigy in terms of her musical ability and talent,” said Dr. Carson. “And that it was nurtured at home is extremely important, and in the neighborhood of the church where she also played.”
“And through philanthropy and support by the white community there in Tryon, she was able to attend high school in Asheville,” Tolbert said of Simone’s North Carolina upbringing. “She continued her career getting to Juilliard.”
The rest is history that transcends music.
Younger generations are discovering her songs and her activism.
Four black artists bought the structure six years ago to save the Simone birth home from demolition. The National Trust for Historic Preservation later declared it a national treasure.
Soon, Tolbert anticipates another big step.
“We intend by the end of the year to start the restoration work on the home,” she said.
The hope is that for generations to come, visitors will be inspired by Simone’s cultural legacy. But the home isn’t the only sign that she was born in Tryon.
At the town’s Nina Simone Plaza, this statue of her playing piano is front and center.
In 2020, artist Scott Nurkin painted an image of Simone on the back of a gas station, part of the N.C. Musicians Mural Project.
“Her importance as a musician and as an activist continue to grow at this day and time,” Dr. Carson said. “And I think that only bodes well for the future the preservation of her music.”
Two decades after her death, folks like Sammie Qualls show how much she’s still beloved. In his free time, he shows reverence by working in the yard where Simone grew up.
“Donations, it takes a lot of money to do it now,” Qualls said of his yardwork contribution. “So I just donate some time to something, you know.”
As he cuts the grass, he also recalls his wife’s stories, which are now legends.