Scheherazade Tillet, Little Girl Blue: A Sojourn to Nina Simone’s Childhood Home

Image: Detail of Salamisha 2018 Scheherazade Tillet

Institute of Jazz Studies

In August 2018 photographer Scheherazade Tillet visited the childhood home of Nina Simone in Tryon, North Carolina. Born in 1933, Simone became an iconic jazz singer, arranger, composer, pianist and social activist. Tillet who is currently working on photography project on black girlhood went to the house with her sister, writer and RU-N professor Salamishah Tillet. The photographs will accompany Salamishah’s forthcoming book, “All the Rage: ‘Mississippi Goddamn’ and The World Nina Simone Made” which in her words is based on “Nina’s most explicitly political song, “Mississippi Goddam,” the civil-rights anthem which Simone composed in 1964 in response to the assassination of the civil-rights leader Medgar Evers in Mississippi and the murder of four African-American girls in a church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, a year earlier.”

Tillet’s photographs are a visual reimagining of Simone as a child in her home, at play, making music, or in the artists words “laying in bed and gazing out the window – perhaps at the family church down the road.” In Tillet’s photographs we see furniture props placed by the former owner of the house to recreate a kind of historical diorama, but there is something more illusive in her framing that is beyond the curated objects. We are presented with shifting layers, a slightly open door behind a bed, radiant wall colors, the peeling back of the homes wooden structure, piercing light pouring in from windows, unseen elements under the house… between floorboards. In one image the window frame gives the appearance of a crucifix that extends from the top of the church seen in the distance.