Trained as a classical pianist, Simone began singing in an Atlantic City nightclub in the 1950s. In 1959, she recorded her first, and biggest, pop hit: a rendition of "I Loves You Porgy" from George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess.
Over the next decade, she established herself through club and festival appearances and in recordings of jazz songs, spirituals, pop songs, and original protest songs informed by the civil rights movement. Her career flagged in the 1970s, but she enjoyed a new wave of popularity in late 1980s and early 1990s, prompted in part by appearances of her recordings in a Chanel television ad and in films. She died in 2003.