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Nina Simone’s Paris

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

Nina Simone’s Paris

From time to time, I am asked questions about Nina Simone and her life in Paris.  Though I knew that she performed here many times between 1967 and 2001, I had found so little information about her living in Paris that I thought this might be a myth. 

Over the summer, I asked Wells International Foundation intern Hanna Gressler (who happens to love Simone’s music) to research this question for Discover Paris!  She found the information presented below.

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Nina Simone in concert 1982

Nina Simone
Concert at Morlaix (Bretagne), France
1982 Roland Godefroy
CC License

Nina Simone lived in Paris between 1981 and 1983.

 According to the biography Nina Simone, une vie by David Brun-Lambert, she lived in a three-room apartment at the Villa Montsouris (exact address unknown) near the Parc Montsouris in the 14th arrondissement. Other than a piano and a few pieces of furniture, the 80 square-meter apartment remained empty and, according to Nina’s friends and colleagues, very dirty.


Lake at Parc Montsouris - Paris

Parc Montsouris Lake
2012 Nicolas Halftermeyer
CC License

Today, the apartment building Villa Montsouris seems to exist no longer.

By the winter of 1982, Nina was giving regular concerts at Les Trois Mailletz in the Latin Quarter, but to a small crowd.

 Aux Trois Mailletz - façade

Aux Trois Mailletz
2004 © Discover Paris!

Having once performed at Carnegie Hall, she was forced to sell her car, furniture, and jewelry to survive.

From What Happened, Miss Simone? A Biography (2016) by Alan Light, we learn that Simone would stand on the sidewalk in front of various Latin Quarter nightclubs and invite passerby to come in and see her perform.

I went back to Paris thinking that I could resume my career. I did it alone, and I landed in the wrong place and I fell from grace .... People didn’t come and see me; they didn’t believe that I was in this small, small place, and I was working for about 300$ a night.

Simone reconnected with her old friend James Baldwin in Paris.  Baldwin often told Simone that she would have to deal with the life she had created for herself.

 Nina Simone and James Baldwin - detail

Nina Simone and James Baldwin (detail) – early 1960s
Photo from NY Public Library

 

While she was a Paris resident, Simone performed at the Olympia Theater in the 9th arrondissement,

 Olympia Theater - façade

Olympia Theater
© Discover Paris!

New Morning, a club in the 10th arrondissement,


New Morning sign

© Discover Paris!

 

The Théatre des Champs Elysées in the 8th arrondissement,

Théatre des Champs Elysées - façade

Théatre des Champs Elysées
© Discover Paris!

 

And the Université Panthéon Assas in the 5th arrondissement.

 Université Panthéon Assas

Université Panthéon-Assas
Creative Commons License – Bryan P., photographer

 

She recorded the album Fodder on My Wings in Paris during this time.


Fodder on My Wings
album cover

 

It was not a commercial success and its failure set the tone for Simone’s brief stay in the City of Light.