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Sam Waymon returns to WNC with "Purpose"

Courtesy of Mary Bates/Warren Wilson College
Courtesy of Mary Bates/Warren Wilson College

Sam Waymon grew up in Tryon, North Carolina as one of eight siblings. The musician and civil rights activist was also the confidant and brother to one of the region’s most well-known musicians: Nina Simone.

Now 80 years later, Waymon returns to Western North Carolina for a performance at Warren Wilson College in honor of Black History Month.

BPR’s Jose Sandoval interviewed Waymon about his life, his sister, civil rights and his new album.

On returning to Western North Carolina

“It's very surreal because the times have changed. And when I was here Tryon, North Carolina and Western North Carolina was a different animal altogether because that was during the height of Jim Crow, the height of bigotry, and differences between the races.”

On Civil Rights and race in America

“Hatred, Jim Crow, KKK, discrimination. It's a disease and like any disease.

Its sole purpose is to destroy.”

“Hatred is a cancer and it needs to be eradicated. And what is the vaccine for that? Communication, understanding, patience. Not patience in a sense of the word of being weak or being non responsive. But patience in that if you're going to make a change everything takes time.”

On his new album and his new song "Baby I"

“We are delivered. We are deliberately here for a purpose in this country or in the world. We are the babies of Mother Nature. We have a reason for being here. That's why I named the album Purpose.”

Baby I stands for a baby I love you and I'm only calling it Baby I for short. It's a testimony in a testament to all the people that I've ever loved in my life.”

On his family

“At three years old. I was playing the piano. So was my other sister Eunice Wayman, but I have to tell you all eight children, including my mom and my dad can play the piano.”

“My father was a honky tonk piano player. My mom was a Vaudeville dancer before she became a minister. All four of my sisters can play insane, all three of my brothers can play insane. My oldest brother who died when he was 97, he played the stride piano.”

On his relationship with his sister, Nina Simone

“My sister and I were joined at the hip, I would like to say,” Waymon explained. “I am proud of having had that experience. She and I went around the world twice. Later on became her manager. And she didn't trust anyone except me.”

On being the last surviving sibling

I got a lot of work to do and still I'm not tired. It's taking me a while to realize that I am the last one.”

“ I have my memories and I think the best thing that one can do is to grace the wonderful experience that one has with one family members who have moved on.

It is to remember them. That's it. That's the history. And that's the joy you can bring to their lives.”

On Black History Month

This is Black History Month...at least black people of color, all of us, we've been giving one month out of 12 to celebrate Black History Month, and I appreciate that but to me every second. Every minute of my day is Black History Month. As long as I'm breathing, it's Black History Month. Not just February. And I implore all of us to think of it that way. “

“There's no such thing as a moment. One moment of black history. Do you realize this country was founded on the backs of people of color? I think it's important that everyone knows their history genetically. Find out who you are. So, you know where you're going. Find out what you made of. Be proud of that.”

On his final conversation with his sister, Nina Simone

“She moved to France. And she used to call everybody at 3 o'clock in the morning New York time and would wake everybody up and she called me. Every time she called me she would either be playing my record in the background. And she called me this particular morning. And I didn't always call her Nina. I called her Eunice. Not everybody was allowed to do that.

She called me and I could tell something wasn't right. And she said, 'Hello Sam.' I said, 'Hello, Nina.' Then she said, 'Sam.' And I could tell something was wrong. 'Okay, Eunice. What's wrong? What's the matter?' She didn't say anything that was silence. I said, 'Eunice, what is it?'

'Sam, if I hand you the torch, brother, will you take it?' I knew instantly what she meant. I paused and I said, 'Yes.' And then there was a sigh of relief in her voice.

'Thank you, I was hoping you would say that. I kind of knew you would but I had to ask,' she said. 'I love you my man,' she said. And I said, 'I love you too.'

That was the last time I spoke to her. But I knew that that was my goodbyes to her.”

On his coming NC performance

I'm looking forward to Warren Wilson because it's in the western part of North Carolina. I've never been there, but let me tell you I went there the other day for rehearsal. It's an amazing little institution.

When I say little it's a small college, but it's huge in the sense that it has a legacy.”

It's gonna be powerful. You know, my stage name is Magic Man. The name of my first album that came out in you was called Magic Man and me and these wonderful musicians that I have behind me. I'm going to put on a show that's going to be magical. It's going to be inspirational. It's going to be motivational. It's going to be thought-provoking. I'm going to take people through a whole array of different styles of music. Every piece of music that I write, every piece of music that I play is important.

This is the first time I've been back here to do a concert full circle in I can’t remember when. My sister had a recital here, you know when she was 14. I had never had a recital here until now. So to come back to my home state an hour away from where I was born. Come on, that's a purpose.”

Sam Waymon will performs atthe Kittredge Theater at Warren Wilson CollegeFriday night at 7pm.

Jose Sandoval is the afternoon host and reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio.