Greetings, and Welcome to My World,
It only makes sense to start at the beginning…..
I was born on a full moon night, 12 September 1962, at Flower-Fifth Avenue Hospital in New York City, at 7:00pm. My father, Andrew Benjamin Stroud, a New York City detective, and my mother, Eunice Kathleen Waymon AKA Nina Simone, christened me Lisa Celeste Stroud.
We lived in our Mt Vernon home for ten years, at which time my parents divorced, and my nomadic life began.
Between 1970 – 1981, I went to school in North Carolina, Barbados, Liberia, Switzerland, New York City, and Upstate New York.
I was an ambitious student with a plan. There’s the plan, and then there’s reality.
Upon graduating from high school in 1981, my college plans fell through. Desperate to be on my own, I enlisted in the United States Air Force and became a ‘Site Developer ‘. The job, which would later be renamed to ‘Engineering Assistant’, consisted of surveying, drafting, soil sampling, and construction management. For someone who wanted to major in English, minor in languages and go to law school, this job was the antithesis of the direction I had planned for myself. Even though it was a struggle, I have a 2-year degree in Civil Engineering.
I was stationed at Davis Monthan Air Base in Tucson, Arizona, Osan Air Base in South Korea, Rhein-Main Air Base in Frankfurt Germany, and am a veteran of Desert Storm.
My eldest son, Jorel, was born in January 1984, in Arizona, and my second son, Alexander, was born in July 1988, in Germany.
At that time, to get promoted to the next rank one had to take a written test. Final scores were compared against others competing for the same promotion, in the same field of work, in the United States Air Force, throughout the world. My job had 8 volumes of study material, and I tested 3 times before achieving the rank of E-5 (Staff Sergeant). I realized I would never self-actualize if I stayed in the service doing what I was doing, because I hated my job, so I began to think about other career options.
One evening I went out to a bistro in downtown Frankfurt with a dear friend who owned her own hair salon close by. I ordered a glass of red wine. That bears mentioning because I was an aerobics instructor and body builder, during off-duty hours, and did not drink alcohol. The gentleman playing the piano this night was good, and his mannerisms reminded me very much of my life in North Carolina. Those memories, combined with that glass of wine, inspired me to get up and sing with him. I have no recollection of the song we sang, nor the rest of the evening. I did however receive a call at my home about two weeks later from a woman asking if I would be interested in being her background singer. Her question was so unexpected I said, “Who are you, and how did you get my number?”. She responded, “My name is Joan Faulkner, and Jeanine (the owner of the hair salon) is raving about your voice.” I accepted her offer.
And, that’s how the journey to becoming the entertainer I am today began.
I was honorably discharged in August 1992 with a ‘European Out’, meaning I opted to continue living in Europe as a civilian. During the work week I supervised Rhein-Main’s base gym, and on weekends I performed with various acts: Joan Faulkner (top 40), Margarita Cantero (latin), The Magic Platters, and The Vic Pitts Top Show (party band). I began using the name ‘L’Simone’ as my stage name in honor of my mother.
That same year I received a call from my god-sister, Ms. Attallah Shabazz, offering me a position as a chorus member for Spain’s singing sensation, Raphael Martos. I accepted, departing Germany for the last time in March 1993 on my ‘Quest For Superstardom’. Raphael’s repertoire was entirely in spanish, as were all of his musicians (with the exception of the other two chorus singers who were also black American women), the countries we toured, and the venues we played. Ensconced in a hotel room in Madrid, Spain, between gigs, I decided to try my hand at songwriting, and ‘Child In Me’ was born (SIMONE ON SIMONE/ALL IS WELL). We continued to perform throughout Spain, South America, Mexico, and the United States, before I decided it was time to settle down somewhere to continue pursuing my quest.
By 1994, I had moved to Los Angeles as part of a girl group, called AURA, made up of three members, Karen Roberts, Jannie Jones, and myself; managed by my god-sister. After 6 months we decided to go in different directions, and I began singing around LA doing open-mic everywhere I could in hopes of landing a real gig.
My first opportunity to perform under my own name, L’Simone, was with the already established B-Sharp Quartet, at LA’s ‘Atlas Club’. After studying the recordings of Sarah Vaughn, Billie Holiday, Al Jarreau, and Ella Fitzgerald I put together my own jazz show. B-Sharp and I began performing together around LA, and its band leader/drummer, Herb Graham became my song writing partner. Our first collaboration, the song ‘DON’T WANNA GO’, is on the ‘ALL IS WELL’ album.
In between gigs I did receptionist work, children’s theatre, and worked as a server with various catering companies.
A dear friend introduced me to Otis Sallid, a respected director/choreographer and I was hired to work with Tangie Ambrose, as one of two assistants. The JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR tour, with Ted Neeley (the actor who played JESUS in the original movie) was going out and Otis made a call to the casting director, Peter Wise, to recommend me for an audition. I remember him saying, “The girl’s got a voice!”. It is important that I communicate the fact that other than doing one high school musical, I had no background in theatre, yet, I was hired as a Soul Sister, Mary/Simon Understudy, and the cast’s vocal coach. There were 2 additional women named Lisa in the cast, so while in rehearsals in NYC, the director turned to me and said, “I am going to call you SIMONE”; the name stuck. I learned quickly while traveling with the bus and truck touring cast of JCS, until December 1995. Carl Anderson, the original JUDAS, joined our tour for a few months, and that was a real experience. I became friends with Rodney Hicks, who played Simon, in the summer of that same year before he departed to join the original cast of RENT.
Rodney called me in LA in March 1996, asking if I would be interested in auditioning for a show headed to Broadway, written by Jonathan Larson, who had recently died tragically. Within 2 weeks of the audition, I moved to New York joining the Original Broadway Cast of RENT, as a ‘swing’; meaning, I was responsible for learning 4 of the 5 female lead roles, something else I had never done before!
The principal cast of this multi-award winning show that went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and 4 Tony Awards, consisted of Anthony Rapp (Mark), Adam Pascal (Roger), Taye Diggs (Benny), Jesse Martin (Collins), Idina Menzel (Maureen), Daphne Rubin-Vega (Mimi), Fredi Walker (Joanne), and Tony Award Winner, Wilson Jermaine Heredia (Angel), and Gwen Stewart.
While swinging at RENT, the show’s casting agent Bernie Telsey introduced me to the booking agency Duva-Flack, who after one meeting agreed to represent me. As a result, I auditioned for, and landed the characters of both Aida (AIDA), and Nala (LION KING) originating the roles in the Disney workshops. With my star headed in another direction, Michael Grief, the director of RENT asked me if I would audition for the role of Mime Marquez for the First National Tour. Out of all the characters I was a swing for, Mimi was my favorite.
November 1996, I joined the First National Touring Company of RENT in the role of Mimi Marquez, to critical acclaim, and was nominated for two prestigious awards for ‘BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL’: The Helen Hayes Award, and The Joseph Jefferson Award.
In 1997, the RENT tour traveled to Chicago setting up for a long term run at the downtown Shubert Theatre. I left the tour in April 1998 to join the Chicago based acid jazz band, Liquid Soul, as its lead singer. Our album, ‘HERE’S THE DEAL’, was nominated for a Grammy Award, and I stayed with the band until the birth of my daughter, in May 1999.
January 1998 my mother was diagnosed with cancer.
December 14, 1998, I opened up for my mother at London’s ROYAL ALBERT HALL, accompanied by K-Groove.
July 24th, 1999, I joined her onstage at the Guinness Blues Festival in Dublin Ireland, a first for us both. In front of an audience of 7,000 we performed a duet of ‘COMPENSATION’ sitting side by side at the piano, and then I went center stage to sing ‘MUSIC FOR LOVERS’ as she accompanied me; a moment in time that will always be a magical memory. That night is commemorated on ‘SIMONE ON SIMONE’, my first Big Band album, which opens with her voice: “I would like to introduce you to my daughter…”
In 2000, she and I would repeat our appearances at Los Angeles’ WILTERN THEATRE (one block from the ATLAS club, where I started with the B-Sharp Quartet), and Chicago’s FORD THEATRE.
In the Spring of 2000, Disney called asking if I would be interested in auditioning for the TONY AWARD winning role I helped to create: AIDA. By September of that same year, I was back on Broadway as a ‘cover’’ for the lead role.
March 2001, I took out the FIRST NATIONAL TOUR OF AIDA in the title role, receiving stellar reviews across the USA, and winning the NATIONAL BROADWAY THEATRE AWARD for ‘BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL’ voted on by fans, nationwide.
Feb 2002, I returned to Broadway’s Palace Theatre in the role of AIDA, once again to critical acclaim (VARIETY/BILLBOARD). August 2002, Mom came to see me perform in the show, and it would be the last time we would see each other.
April 21, 2003, Nina Simone died in her southern France home. From that day forward, I stopped using my given name, often saying “When Nina died, Lisa did, too”. 3 months later I left Broadway and my theatrical career behind.
June 2004, I joined Odetta, Oscar Brown Jr, Lizz Wright, Tracy Chapman, Floetry, James ‘Blood’ Ulmer, Vernon Reid, and others at New York’s CARNEGIE HALL for the debut of SING THE TRUTH, a tribute to Nina Simone.
From 2005-2007, I had the pleasure of performing selected dates with the DAUGHTERS OF SOUL, created by Sandra St. Victor of the ‘Family Stand’. The lineup was Sandra St. Victor, Nona Hendryx (Labelle), Joyce Kennedy (Mother’s Finest), Deniece Williams, Indira Khan (daughter of Chaka Khan), and Lalah Hathaway (daughter of Donny Hathaway). We performed at Amsterdam’s famed PARADISO, Finland’s POORI JAZZ FESTIVAL, Spain’s SAN SEBASTIAN FESTIVAL.
April 21, 2006, three years after Mom made her transition, I paid tribute to her at TOWN HALL in New York City, with her original musicians. We reprised the entire show on the very same stage where, 47 years earlier, at 26 years of age, my mother debuted as Nina Simone – captured on the album, ‘Nina Simone Live At Town Hall’.
In 2007, American record executives were not interested in putting their money behind the original music of a new artist in her 40’s, so my management team, Robert Kelly and Gregory Epler, proposed doing a Big Band project since the genre of jazz had no age limits. The Rob Stoneback Big Band out of Allentown, Pennsylvania, were available, as was studio space, at STAR CITY STUDIOS. One evening I went to Rob Stoneback’s house carrying all my Nina Simone albums, with the intention of selecting songs to record for the album. Still not a drinker of alcoholic beverages, I had (another) glass of red wine, and in less than an hour had chosen the repertoire that would be recorded. Weeks later, with respected producer, Bob Belden at the helm, the Rob Stoneback Big Band and I recorded my first live in-the-studio album, in 3 days.
May 2008, ‘SIMONE ON SIMONE’, my tribute to ‘The Great One Who Walked before Me”, executive produced by Robert Kelly and myself, was released on Koch Records; debuting at # 14 on the jazz charts, and my love affair with all things Big Band was ignited.
June 2008, I shared the famed HOLLYWOOD BOWL stage with Cheap Trick, Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins), Ian Ball, and Rod Laufer, saluting the 40th Anniversary of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, accompanied by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.
August 2008, I performed outside under the stars at New York’s LINCOLN CENTER with the Rob Stoneback Big Band. It was inspiring to see One Lincoln Plaza, the building in which I had lived with my mother as a 10 yr old, in my line of sight as I sang. Another highlight of the evening was when RéAnna, age 9, joined me onstage to sing ‘Love Me Or Leave Me’.
May 2009, I joined Lizz Wright, Angelique Kidjo, Dianne Reeves, Patti Austin, and some of the original musicians from the Nina Simone band: Chris White (double bass), Al Schackman (guitar/vibes), and Leopoldo Fleming (percussion) on the SING THE TRUTH tour. In addition to Europe, we performed in Hong Kong, Australia (SIDNEY OPERA HOUSE), and New Zealand, to sold out audiences.
November 2010, I was a featured artist on the soundtrack for Tyler Perry’s film, ‘FOR COLORED GIRLS’, alongside, Ledisi, and Laura Izibor, on Atlantic Records
October 2011, I was introduced to the meditation practices of Tenzin Wengyal Rinpoche. A year later I enrolled in his meditation program, the 3 Doors US2 North American Academy. The day I became a student of Rinpoche’s is the best gift I have ever given myself, for his teachings literally saved my life.
May 2012, I was amongst a star lineup of talent and influencers invited to perform at former Ambassador, and former Mayor Andrew Young’s 80th birthday cabaret at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta.
July 2012, with Jayson Jackson (Lauryn Hill manager, and WHMS producer) as my manager, I came to France at the invitation of Boris Jourdain, the man who would become my French booking agent from 2014 – 2018. We did 3 successful shows. Boris was starting his new booking agency and was looking for a Diva. I, in turn, was looking for an agent that believed in me. July 1st, 2012, at Paris’ Parc Floral, in front of an audience of 2,500 I left the stage to a standing ovation, and Boris and I realized that France was where my career would flourish.
September 3rd, 2013, my family and I landed at Marseille Airport, with 2 suitcases each, and a dream.
Two weeks later I traveled to Limoges, France, where Boris introduced me to John Michel Leygonie, the director of Laborie Jazz. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss becoming their next artist. Once we agreed to move forward, everything sped up.
October 2013, while on retreat at one of the two required sessions of the 3 Doors meditation program, we sat in circle sharing. A classmate asked me to speak louder, starting with repeating my name, when it was my turn to speak. Without thinking, I said, “My name is Lisa!” In that moment, time stood still as a hush came over the room. This was my second year in the program, and Simone was my name. A few weeks later, my agent Boris Jourdain wrote a long message in an attempt to gently convince me of the importance of having two names on the new project, not just one. He had no idea that I had made peace with my given name and was pleasantly surprised to receive my brief response: “Let’s do it!”
After 20 years using the name SIMONE, and two years of doing deep inner reflective work, it felt good to embrace LISA with joy, and a sense of feeling complete.
Feb 2014, I met Hervé Samb, the Senegalese guitarist – who would become my writing partner for the next three albums – in the reception area of Paris’ Hotel du Pré. That same evening, I attended his show at Duc des Lombard where he was accompanied by two other musicians, one of which was American bassist, Reggie Washington; I was amazed. Soon thereafter, Hervé and I began writing for, and arranging the ‘ALL IS WELL’ album. Rehearsals began in March, we recorded in May, and in October 2014, ‘ALL IS WELL’ was released, with my tattooed back on the album cover.
January 2015, ‘WHAT HAPPENED MISS SIMONE’ the documentary on the life of my mother, that I founded and executive produced using my full name, LISA SIMONE KELLY, made its debut at the SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL, introduced by Robert Redford, himself. Unable to attend because the dates of the festival conflicted with dates I was set to record a live Big Band album with the Tromsø Big Band in Tromsø, Norway, I kept my gaze forward.
I promoted ‘WHAT HAPPENED MISS SIMONE’ making appearances with director, Liz Garbus, in London, at the BERLIN FILM FESTIVAL in Berlin, Germany, and on THE VIEW hosted by Whoopi Goldberg and Raven Simone in New York City.
April 1st, 2015, I graduated from the US2 North American Academy of the 3 Doors, in Charlottesville, Virginia, after a 3-year program, with my ‘CERTIFICATE OF COMPLETION’ in meditation studies. This moment heralded a new outlook on life and how it can be lived.
Meanwhile, I continued to tour with my trio, Hervé Samb (guitar), Reggie Washington (bass/double bass), and Sonny Troupé (drums). Our reputation gained momentum quickly as we uplifted audiences throughout France, Switzerland, Germany, and the Caribbean.
‘WHAT HAPPENED MISS SIMONE’, which launched Netflix worldwide, would go on to garner 18 nominations and win 5 awards, including a Primetime Emmy Award, the Peabody Award, a Grammy nomination and, an Oscar Nomination. I call WHMS, “A daughter’s promise to her mother fulfilled”, for on Mom’s deathbed I promised her that I would make sure she was not forgotten.
Feb 2016, I walked the red carpet at the Oscar Awards with my daughter, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles; Mission Accomplished!
April 14, 2016, marked the official concert release of my next album, entitled MY WORLD, at THE OLYMPIA, in Paris. French superstar Nikos Aliágas introduced me to the stage, where I was accompanied by my trio, a horn section, percussion, and 2 background singers.
For the rest of 2016, the MY WORLD Tour was in demand, headlining world renowned festivals such as VIENNE and MARCIAC, in France, and CULLY, in Switzerland.
January 2017, I traveled to Tromsø Norway to perform with the Big Band to officially release the live album ‘LISA SIMONE, LIVE AT THE EDGE’, recorded at The Edge Hotel with the TROMSØ BIG BAND, in 2015, over two nights, to sold out audiences.
For the remainder of 2017 and 2018, I toured with my trio.
When I walked onto the stage at the 50th anniversary of MONTREUX JAZZ FESTIVAL, in Switzerland, in June 2017, a 40-year dream was realized.
During those same years I performed with Big Bands, such as Germany’s HR BIG BAND, and Toulouse’ BIG BAND GARONNE with musical director, Philippe Léogé, dazzling audiences with the same Big Band arrangements written by Ken Moyer, for the ‘SIMONE ON SIMONE’ album, in 2008.
I had also been working with literary agent, Jason Anthony, and collaborative writer, Samantha Marshall, for two years, and landed a book deal with HATCHETTE, in 2018. The announcement was met with enthusiasm in the literary world and the project landed the coveted spot of the Number #1 BOOK DEAL OF THE WEEK, according to Publishers Weekly.
July 2018, I met Mateo Ferrand, manager to one of France’s most popular artists, Soprano. I was at a crossroads in my career, and Mateo believed in me. He introduced me to Warner Music Elektra, and yet another long-held dream – getting that coveted ‘record deal’, was realized.
February 2019, I signed with Warner Music Elektra France, and the journey to creating the next album, IN NEED OF LOVE, began. With the guidance of Elektra’s head of A&R, Anne Cordier, and producer, Règis Ceccarelli at the helm, my family, and musicians gathered at La Fabrique Studio in St Remy, France, to put the final touches on my latest project.
June 2019, ‘RIGHT NOW’, the first music video of my career was released. Directors, Fifou and Juilen Paolini, divide the video into four parts, using four different looks to represent pivotal periods in my life.
My most recent album, released in October 2019, is entitled, ‘IN NEED OF LOVE’. This musical journey is the third part of the Lisa Simone Trilogy, and my gift to a world, in need of love.
Photo Credit: Edilson Boz