Clemens Harold Sandresky
by Ron Eldridge
Clemens Harold Sandresky: An inspirational force behind Eunice Waymon, aka Nina Simone, and her musical journey.
He was a distinguished professional musician, a gifted pianist, a prominent educator and a leading figure in the cultural life of Winston-Salem during the last half of the past century. In 1952 Clemens Harold Sandresky became Dean of the School of Music at Salem Academy and College until 1986.
One of Mr. Sandresky’s many gifts that may have flown under the radar was that of compassion for the up-and-coming generation in the classical arena. Prime example: under the recommendation of music teacher, Mrs. Grace Potter Carol, who suggested that Mr. Sandresky, who had a little music studio in Asheville, work with a young female African-American teenager named Eunice Waymon (aka Nina Simone).
Nina had the classical aptitude to become a superstar even as a young teen. Sandresky recognized the classic skillfulness in Nina’s musical gift. She had a special feeling for and excelled in playing Bach, Chopin, Brahms, Beethoven and Schubert by ear. Opportunities for young African-American females were very slim, especially in the world of classical performers. Sandresky saw fit to overcome these barriers by coaching and supporting the talents of Eunice Waymon.
When it came recital time for young Eunice, Sandresky held her recital in his confined apartment. His dwelling was so small that when Eunice’s family came to hear her recital, many of her family members had to listen on the porch with the windows open. Still pushing the racial envelope, Sandresky recommended and assisted young Eunice to get accepted to Julliard School of music. Due to the high cost of schooling, Eunice had to drop out after a year of attending. So Eunice applied to the Curtis Institute of Music, which is a conservatory in Philadelphia that offers courses of study leading to a performance diploma, Bachelor of Music, Master of Music in Opera, or Professional Studies Certificate in Opera.
Even though she felt very confident that her audition went well, Eunice was denied admission. Eunice sensed the only reason for her denial was because she was black! This event was a major turning point in Eunice’s musical journey. Eunice’s focus was that of the times when African-Americans were marching to protest for racial equality in education, employment, housing and yes, even in the world of music.
It was around this time that Eunice Waymon reinvented herself into Nina Simone. The reason was that Nina was shrouding her name to shield her from her family’s strong religious roots. Many of her songs were a reflection of the racial injustices, like the bombing in Birmingham of the little girls and the murder of Medgar Evers.
Thank you Mr. Clemens Sandresky, for your wisdom and foresight in supporting young Miss Eunice Waymon, who was to become one of the world’s greatest entertainers. And thank you, Mrs. Margaret Sandresky, for sharing a little known but important historical fact in the world of entertainment.