As anyone who has heard the highlights of Paul Simon’s catalogue knows, he grew up as part of a Jewish family in New York and spent his childhood learning music and watching the Yankees. When Simon was just 11 years old, fate stepped in and introduced him to Art Garfunkel. The pair became close friends, sharing the same love of artists like The Everly Brothers, Lead Belly, and Woodie Guthrie. Although separated for a brief time while they attended separate colleges, the duo seized upon opportunity when given a chance to audition before the incredibly famous record executive and kingmaker Clive Davis. Despite a slow start that led Simon to live in London for a brief time, the song “The Sounds of Silence” accelerated up the radio charts and extinguished forever any uncertainty about Simon and Garfunkel’s ability to write songs together. The music that followed served as part of the heavy rotation soundtrack of the turbulent late-1960s and early 1970s. “The Boxer,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “America,” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” remain classics of the popular American songbook and provide insight into one of the most revolutionary eras within modern memory.
Paul Simon’s career as a solo artist served as a departure from the traditional song structures and harmonies of Simon and Garfunkel into an unrestrained dimension of creativity and experimentalism. His 1970 solo debut featured the song “Mother and Child Reunion,” one of the first attempts at reggae made by a white singer. He has released ten albums as a solo artist, featuring some of the most evocative, progressive, and influential music recorded to date. Many of his songs have featured traditional elements of African and South American music infused with folk, jazz, and pop foundations. His most celebrated solo album, Graceland, exhibits this harmonious chaos through songs like “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” “Under African Skies,” and “You Can Call Me Al.” In his remarkable career, Paul Simon has won 12 Grammy Awards, has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and has collaborated or toured with artists such as Brian Eno, Annie Lennox, and Bob Dylan, to name but a few.
Paul Simon has helped countless people to make sense of tragedy and rebuild from loss through his songwriting, but he has shown an equal amount of passion in his humanitarian works. In 1976, Simon helped raise $30,000 for the New York Public Library by arranging a benefit concert. He performed “We Are the World” alongside Michael Jackson, Harry Belafonte, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, and Bruce Springsteen for the USA for Africa Campaign. He became the first American artist to perform in post-apartheid South Africa in 1987, at the invitation of Nelson Mandela. In 2001, he performed “The Boxer,” a song of deep courage and hopeful perseverance, as part of the first Saturday Night Live following the 9/11 attacks. Simon is an honorary member and avid supporter of the Little Kids Rock organization, which provides schoolchildren with free instruments and music lessons. Lastly, and most importantly, Simon co-founded the Children’s Health Fund in 1986, which donates and staffs mobile medical vans to provide aid to displaced and needy children all over the United States.
In 2011, Simon released So Beautiful or So What, a spiritual, quirky, and satirical take on today’s cultural climate. While his music continues to become more complex and more mature, the message at its core remains the same as it was within his timeless earlier works – above politics, social status, race, and everything else that divides people, there is a connective force of beauty that exists for all those willing to look – and, of course, to listen – for it.