Prolific singer-songwriter and musician Paul Simon has gone from composing the quintessential soundtrack of American college students during the 1960s as part of the famed duo Simon & Garfunkel, to introducing listeners to the rhythms of Africa and beyond in the 1980s as a successful solo artist. In both incarnations, his nostalgic yet experimental songs have become classics of their genre.
Paul Frederic Simon was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1941 and grew up in Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, New York City. He met Art Garfunkel while attending Forrest Hills High School. The budding musicians were signed by a record company under the name Tom & Jerry and scored the hit single Hey Schoolgirl when they were both just 16 years old.
Two of a kind
After several years spent pursuing separate projects, Simon and Garfunkel officially merged, signing with Columbia Records and releasing Wednesday Morning, 3 AM in 1964. However, a whole year passed before their debut gained recognition, during which time Simon joined CBS as a solo artist and released The Paul Simon Songbook exclusively in the U.K.
In 1965, the pair's producer Tom Wilson reworked the acoustic single The Sound of Silence, infusing it with an electric edge, and created a number one hit in the process. Over the next five years, Simon & Garfunkel reigned over the charts, becoming the top folk-pop duo of the 1960s.
In light of their newfound success, the two musicians hastily headed back into the studio to record Sounds of Silence in 1966. The more ambitious Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme followed that same year, featuring tracks inspired by an early English folk song (Scarborough Fair/Canticle), a satire of Dylanesque folk-rock (A Simple Desultory Philippic) and a political commentary (7 O' Clock New/Silent Night).
In 1968, the pair provided most of the soundtrack for the popular film The Graduate, which took the wistful Mrs. Robinson as its theme song. Simon's melancholic song writing and Garfunkel's choirboy tenor set the mood of the film - and, coming at the close of the 1960s, the era - of lost innocence.
In 1970, Simon & Garfunkel released its fifth and final album, the aptly titled Bridge Over Troubled Water. With the success of the title track and Cecilia, the album became their biggest hit yet. However, the duo dissolved that year due to creative differences.
In 1972, Simon released a self-titled album, which included the track Mother and Child Reunion, considered to be one of the first reggae recordings by a white artist. There Goes Rhymin' Simon followed in 1973 to glowing reviews. His third solo effort, Still Crazy After All These Years, featuring 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover and the Simon & Garfunkel reunion track My Little Town, reached number one on the Billboard charts and won the Grammy for Best Album of the Year in 1976.
Simon's swift ascent on the charts lost momentum during the late 1970s and early '80s, when he appeared in the Woody Allen film Annie Hall (1977), and wrote and starred in One Trick Pony (1980), for which he also composed the soundtrack.
In 1981, Simon reunited with Garfunkel for their now famous concert in Central Park, which was attended by more than 500,000 fans, and subsequent world tour. However, the duo aborted work on its album Think Too Much, which Simon later released as Heart and Bones in 1983.
Grace and Favour
Just as his career was at a standstill, the musician set off in new musical directions. Inspired by the instrumental track Gumboots by the Boyoyo Boys, Simon started recording a new album in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1985, collaborating with local artists such as vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Graceland was released the following year and went on to sell five million copies in the U.S. alone. It won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year, and was later added to the National Recording Registry, a selection of culturally significant recordings at the Library of Congress, in 2006.
Simon held a Graceland concert in Zimbabwe in 1987 and, five years later, became the first American artist to perform in post-apartheid South Africa. For his follow-up, The Rhythm of the Saints (1990), he shifted his focus to the rhythms of Brazil. That same year, Simon & Garfunkel was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Following the disappointing reception of his musical The Capeman, on which he had worked for several years during the 1990s, Simon went on tour with Bob Dylan in 1999. For his tenth solo album, Surprise (2006), he collaborated with Brian Eno.
That same year, the folk troubadour and world music supporter arrived at the Festival, sharing a diverse and eclectic songbook that spanned over 50 years.