“[Langston Hughes and Nina Simone] first met when Simone was still Eunice Waymon from Tryon, North Carolina: an aspiring classical pianist, ‘president of the 11th-grade class and an officer with the school’s NAACP chapter,’ explains Andrew J. Fletcher, a board member of the Nina Simone Project in Asheville.
“This was 1949, and Hughes had come to Asheville to address Allen High School, the private school for African-American girls Simone attended through a scholarship that her music teacher and early champion collected from her hometown. The poet ‘could not have known,’ Maria Popova writes at Brain Pickings, ‘that [Simone] would soon revolutionize the music canon under her stage name.’ But nearly 10 years later, he recognized her talent immediately.
“On the release of Simone’s first album, Little Girl Blue, [in 1958] Hughes was ‘so stunned that he lauded it with lyrical ardor’ in his column for the Chicago Defender:
“She is different. So was Billie Holiday, St. Francis, and John Donne. So is Mort Sahl. She is a club member, a coloured girl, an Afro-American, a homey from Down Home. She has hit the Big Town, the big towns, the LP discs and the TV shows — and she is still from down home. She did it mostly all by herself. Her name is Nina Simone.”