NEW YORK - When Nina Simone died earlier this year, the name of her
daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly
, was mentioned only in passing - if at all.
This although Kelly
, Simone's only child, was starring at the time in "Aida," one of the most popular shows on Broadway.But the singer-actress, who goes by the name Simone professionally, is used to living in her
"Most people don't even know who I am, or that I exist," she
said without a trace of bitterness.
But at 41, Kelly
is ready to claim the spotlight.
Earlier this summer, she
wrapped up two years of playing the title role in "Aida."Now she's
determined to make a name for herself while promoting the legacy of her
mother.She is starting the Nina Simone Foundation, a nonprofit group designed to preserve and celebrate her mother's music, social causes and legacy.
An all-star concert tribute is planned for 2004.And Kelly
, a married mother of two children, is preparing to tour with her
own band until she
lands a record contract.
"It's time for people to know who I am, what I can do, and where I come from, and there's no better way for them to realize that than by watching me perform," Kelly
Simone and her
daughter don't look particularly alike - Kelly
, tall and lanky, has more angular features than her
remembers one year when she
went from attending an exclusive boarding school in Europe to a New York public school.
"That was culture shock!"she
laughs."But hey, I managed."Her
relationship with her
mother, a mercurial figure known for her
temperamental ways, was difficult and sometimes strained.Kelly
mother was often angered by the racism, sexism and other struggles she
endured as an entertainer.
had a lot of sadness in her
life, a lot disappointment in her
says, then adds with a laugh: "She
was a sweet person.Under different circumstances, we would have been great friends."
Simone didn't want Kelly
to follow in her
teenage daughter when she
started singing in a band.Yet she was dismayed when Kelly ditched her college plans and joined the Air Force.
"Everybody was extremely concerned and mortified," Kelly laughs.She
remained enlisted for over a decade.But her
singing career was eventually restarted while she
was stationed in Germany, singing along with a piano player in a bar.Her
friend, impressed with her
voice, recommended her
as a background singer for another friend, and she
began performing on a regular basis, eventually leaving the service to pursue singing full time.She
even took her
mother's surname as her
stage name, after some initial concerns.
"At the time, I was reticent about it, because Mommy and I weren't exactly seeing eye to eye, and I knew if I adopted the name professionally, it had to be for the right reasons," she
"(But) I realized no matter what's going on between she
and I, that's my mom, it's part of my heritage, and so I have to carry on."
While Simone was initially displeased by her
daughter's career path, she
eventually grew to appreciate and admire her
daughter's choice, even inviting her
to sing in concert with her
would eventually land a gig as the lead singer for the fusion-jazz band Liquid Soul, and sang on its 2000 Grammy-nominated album "Here's the Deal."That led to a role in the touring group of the musical "Rent" and the touring version of "Aida."She
took over the Broadway role when Tony-winner Heather Headley departed.Kelly
was performing in "Aida" the last time she
mother, who was frail but still made the performance.
During that visit, "she
told me she'd be around for a long time," Kelly
Although the pair sometimes had a rocky relationship, Kelly
says the two were close: "She
always knew that I loved her
always knew that I was there, no matter what.I knew that she
was there for me, too, no matter what."
Now, as she
prepares to raise her
own profile, she
also wants to put more focus on the achievements of her
mother, who she
believes never received her
proper due in life.
"I told her
in the early '90s ...I said, 'I want to do a tribute to you, so you will know before you die how much people love you, and give them a chance to honor you and your music,'" she
recalls.The Nina Simone Foundation
aims to fulfill that dream.Meanwhile, Kelly
may have to wait a while for her
own star to rise - but that's OK.
"You can feel free to say I'm Nina Simone's daughter, because that's who I am," she