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BIOGRAPHY

  Internationally renowned opera star Simon Estes enjoys the ecstatic praise of music lovers around the globe.        Since winning the Bronze Medal in Moscow's Tchaikovsky competition in 1966, he has performed with 84 of the major international opera companies including the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala Milan, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Paris Opera, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, San Francisco Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Florence Opera, and the State Operas of Hamburg, Munich and Vienna as well as the Zurich Opera House. In high demand as a recitalist and orchestral soloist, he has appeared regularly with 115 orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, The Philharmonic Orchestra of London, London Symphony Orchestra, the National Orchestra of Spain, Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Moscow Symphony Orchestra, Symphonic Orchestra of the Municipal Theater in Rio de Janeiro and the Vienna Philharmonic.

  A native of Centerville, Iowa, Simon Estes first sang at the age of eight in the city's Second Baptist Church. While working his way       through the University of Iowa as a pre-med and psychology student, he became the first black member of the University's Old Gold Singers. As a member of this group Mr. Estes came to the attention of faculty member Charles Kellis, his first and only voice teacher. Simon Estes was granted a full scholarship to attend Julliard School of Music and received a Martha Baird Rockefeller Foundation grant. The New York Community Trust and NAACP provided funds for Simon to audition at the Deutsche Oper in West Berlin.  On  April 19, 1965, he made his operatic debut with the Deutsche Opera as Ramfis in Aida.

 

  Of the over one hundred roles in his repertoire, he is most often associated with King Phillip in Don Carlo, Wotan in Wagner's Ring cycle, Amfortas in Parsifal, King Mark in Tristan and Isolde, the four bass-baritone roles in The Tales of Hoffmann, Escamillo in Carmen, Porgy in Porgy and Bess and the title roles in Boris Godunov, Verdi's Attila, Nabucco, Oberto,and Macbeth, Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, Saint-Saens King Henry VIII, Rossini's Moses and Berthold Goldschmidt's Cenci. In the title role in Wagner‘s The Flying Dutchman  he appeared triumphantly for six successive years at the Bayreuth Festival.  His debut there marked the first appearance of any black male artist at this shrine to Richard Wagner. Mr. Estes' recording of The Flying Dutchman, with Woldemar Nelsson conducting the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus, is available on the Philips Classics label.

 

  Aside from his landmark appearances at Bayreuth, many other historic musical events have marked Mr. Estes' career. In June and November of 1989, he sang at the White House for President Bush, Sr. In past years, he gave a command performance for President Lyndon B. Johnson at the White House, sang at the inaugural concert of the Kennedy Center as soloist in William Schuman's A Free Song, which was attended by President Richard Nixon. Mr. Estes holds the unique honor of having been the only singer to sing for both the 25th and 50th Anniversary of the United Nations. He sang as a part of the opening of the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany in 1972. In July 1986, he performed in New York with the Boston Pops as part of the Statue of Liberty centennial celebration. He performed in the United States premiere of Shostakovich's 14th Symphony with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra and received a Grammy Nomination for Best Classical Album of the Year. Dr. Estes created the role of Uncle Albert in the world premiere of Gunter Schuller's The Visitation. In 1977, he sang the title role in one of the first modern productions of Verdi's rarely performed first opera, Oberto, in Bologna, Italy; in 1979, he played the Pharaoh in the historic revival of Rossini's Moses at La Scala; and, in 1985, he was the Metropolitan Opera's first Porgy.

Among his recording credits, Mr. Estes counts works on the Auvidis, Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, Deutsche Schallplatten, EMI, Philips Classics and Sony Classical labels. He has recorded in Bayreuth the title role in Wagner's Flying Dutchman which was also filmed and televised by Unitel. Simon Estes sang for the centennial production of Parsifal with James Levine conducting the Orchestra and Chorus of the Bayreuth Festival. Other recordings include Bizet’s Carmen with Seiji Ozawa and Jessye Norman, Highlights from Porgy and Bess, and a collection of Broadway’s Greatest Hits with Willie Anthony Waters conducting; Verdi's Requiem and Mozart's Requiem as well as Beethoven's Ninth, all conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini. With Sir Colin Davis he has recorded Handel's Messiah, the Fauré Requiem, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and Samson and Dalila from Saint-Saens; with the Vienna Philharmonic and Lorin Maazel Mahler's Symphony No. 8 and Strawinsky's Oedipus Rex with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting. His last recording of Spirituals with Donald Ryan as accompanist and arranger has been released on the Deutsche Schallplatten label and in the recording of Berthold Goldschmidt's opera Beatrice Cenci - on Sony Classical - Simon Estes has portrayed the role of Cenci.

  In January of 1990 Simon Estes sang for the inauguration of the first black governor of the United States, Governor Wilder of the State of Virginia. In June of 1990 Simon Estes sang for Mr. Nelson Mandela at the Service of the Riverside Church in New York City and forthe July 4th celebration he sang with the National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich at the Nations Capitol. In August of 1990 Simon Estes was in Oslo and sang for the Conference of The Anatomy of Hate under the patronage of the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize Committee and The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. Some notable figures that were present in Oslo were former President Jimmy Carter, former president from France Francois Mittérand, former president of Czechoslovakia Vaclav Havel, Nelson Mandela, Elie Wiesel and many other important artists and literary people.

In 1991, at the conclusion of Operation Desert Storm, Simon Estes performed a concert at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City.  Dignitaries in attendance were Dick Cheney, General Colin Powell and General Norman Schwarzkopf.   In June of 1993 Simon Estes sang for Hillary Clinton in Washington D.C. at a luncheon honoring the First Lady. In the fall of 1994 he sang for Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu in The Cathedral of St. John The Divine in New York. Mr. Estes sang twice for Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in Rome. Presidents of the U.S.A. for whom Mr. Estes has sung are: Johnson, Nixon, two times for George Bush Sr., Carter, and the second inauguration festivities for President Clinton. He has also performed for the presidents of Canada, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Switzerland, and South Africa as well as royalty from Monaco, England, Sweden, Norway, Romania, and Spain.

   In past seasons Simon Estes performed at the State Opera in Vienna, the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Teatro Real in Madrid, the Washington Opera, at Carnegie Hall in New York, the Los Angeles Opera, Théâtre Capitole de Toulouse, Gran Teatre Del Liceu in Barcelona and the International May Festival in Wiesbaden. He appeared in concerts and recitals in Bern, Durban, Graz, Helsinki, Paris, Prague, Lucerne, Düsseldorf, Munich, Granada, Santander, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Valencia, Zurich, Cincinnati, Detroit, New York, San Diego, Sao Paulo, Tokyo, with the OK Mozart International Festival in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, with Festival Carinthian Summer and Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival and the Festival Castell de Peralada.

   His many engagements in season 2001/2002 included concerts and recitals in Essen, Graz, Zurich, Santander, Baltimore MD, Murcia, Pamplona, Ubeda, Mason City, Waverly and Avignon. He added a new role to his repertoire at the Gran Teatre Del Liceu by singing the title role of Henry VIII by Saint-Saëns.  At the Hamburg State Opera he sang the title role in The Flying Dutchman.

In season 2002/2003 Simon Estes sang at the Brucknerfest in Linz the role of Amfortas in a concert version of Parsifal. He portrayed the role of King Philip in Don Carlo at the Lithuanian National Theatre in Vilnius. In a concert version of La Forza del Destino he performed the role of Padre Guardiano at Carnegie Hall in New York. At Teatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro he made his debut singing the role of Father Laurence in Roméo et Juliette by Berlioz. Other engagements included concerts in Lucerne, Tulsa/Oklahoma, Des Moines/Iowa, Dortmund and Zurich as well as a recital of spirituals at the Hamburg State Opera.

In the season 2003/2004 he performed concerts in Zurich, Waterloo/Iowa, Las Vegas, Chicago, Minneapolis, Washington/D.C., New York and recitals in Lerida, Cartagena, Seville and/Switzerland. At the Konzerthaus Dortmund he sang the role of Wotan in Die Walküre. At the Semperoper Dresden he made his debut with a recital of spirituals.  At a gala performance of The Flying Dutchman he portrayed the title role at the National Theater in Mannheim.

In season 2004/2005 Simon Estes performed concerts and recitals in Ames, Iowa; Boston, Massachusetts; Jacksonville and Fort Meyers, Florida; Toledo and Murcia, Spain; Eisenach, Germany and Cape Town, South Africa. In Switzerland he appeared in an Opera Gala at the International Music Week in Grechen.  He participated in a concert at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation and was presented with the Puccini Foundation‘s Baccarat Award in recognition of his achievements in the arts.

For the year 2006/2007 Mr. Estes was invited to sing in Carnegie Hall, Orchestra Hall in Chicago, JFK Music Center in Washington D.C., Denver Colorado, Germany, Switzerland, South Africa, South America, Prague Symphony Orchestra, Moscow, Florida, New Jersey, Mississippi and other various cities in the U.S.A. and around the world. Mr. Estes was also on tour with the Yale Alumni Chorus in South Africa. In October 2007, Professor Estes sang for the Inauguration of Harvard University‘s first female president, President Faust.

   In 2007/2008 Dr. Estes gave a number of master classes in Leipzig, Germany, and also performed at the Eisenach Castle with the Wartburg College Choir. Dr. Estes also performed in Boston Symphony Hall Verdi.s Requiem with the Boston University Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Professor, Ann Howard Jones. With the Boston Chamber Orchestra Mr. Estes performed in New York Cities Town Hall. During Black History Month, Dr. Estes performed and participated in a lecture honoring the late Dr. Martin Luther King‘s Birthday and Anniversary of Dr. King‘s assassination. Mr. Estes also sang for the Jefferson Fund Raiser held in Des Moines, Iowa. In attendance were all Democratic Candidates including Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Hilary Clinton, John Edwards, Chris Dodd and Robertson. Mr. Estes also sang three more times for Barack Obama during his campaign events.

In response to the tragic tornado and flooding of Iowa in the spring of 2008, Mr. Estes performed a benefit concert with the Des Moines Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Maestro Joseph Giunta.  Mr. Estes presented a check in the amount of $38,000 to the citizens of Parkersburg, Iowa. In September, 2008 Mr. Estes  performed another benefit concert at Wartburg College along with the choir of Wartburg College to assist the flood victims and churches in Waverly, Iowa.

In 2009, Dr. Estes served as President of the Vocal Competition and Jury in Geneva, Switzerland.  In 2013, Dr. Estes returned upon request to again serve as President of the Vocal Competition and Jury in Geneva, Switzerland. 

 

In July, 2010 Simon along with the Simon Estes Music High School Choir sang for the Grand Finale Concert for the World Cup in Johannesburg, South Africa. The president of South Africa was in attendance. Spring of 2011 Simon Estes and Rotary International sponsored a tour for the Simon Estes Music High School Choir from Cape Town, South Africa. The tour included performances at Iowa State University, Wartburg College, and many cities and towns in Iowa. They sang for Governor Terry Branstad at the State Capitol Rotunda in Des Moines, Iowa. The tour continued to Tulsa, Oklahoma and on to New Orleans for the Rotary International Convention, where more than 25,000 world members of Rotary heard them sing.

 

Summer of 2011 Dr. Estes sang for the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Celebration. Simon was invited by Governor Terry Branstad to sing at a memorial service to commemorate the 9/11 tragedy.  Professor Estes was also invited by Iowa Public Television to host an hour long 9/11 Tribute. Also in summer of 2011 Mr. Estes sang for the 25th Anniversary of World Food Prize Laureates Ceremony honoring President of Ghana H.E. John Agyekum Kufuor and President of Federative Republic of Brazil, H. E. Luiz Inachio Lula da Silva.

Of the many master classes that Dr. Estes has given some of them include Harvard University, Duke University, John Hopkins, Peabody Conservatory, University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin, University of Indiana, San Francisco Conservatory, Russian Music Society in Moscow, Sidney in Australia, University of Iowa and many others. In the past Simon was a faculty member as Professor at Boston University for five years. 


  Known throughout the world for his opera, concert, and recital performances, as well as for his recordings and appearances in television shows including the Tonight Show and the Today Show, Simon Estes still finds time to share his love and knowledge of music with students from elementary school through college with master classes and lectures. He is Professor at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa and at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. In his master classes, across the country and the world, Dr. Estes teaches not only music, but artistic and personal values as well.

His love and concern for youth is also manifested in the four scholarship organizations he has created in the United States: The Simon Estes Educational Foundation in Tulsa, Oklahoma, The Simon Estes Scholarship Fund at the University of Iowa, The Simon and Westella H. Estes Scholarship Fund at Centerville Community College, and The Simon Estes Foundation, with a focus on education, health and hunger concerns.  For the Simon Estes Educational Foundation in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Simon has helped to raise more than 3 million dollars in cooperation with co-founder Jayne Reed and has awarded more than 350 scholarships. The recipients have graduated from more than 56 colleges and universities across the United States in many diverse areas of study.

In 1993 he established The Simon Estes International Foundation for Children in Zurich, Switzerland with the purpose of financially assisting underprivileged and needy children as far as their education and health is concerned. In Cape Town, South Africa he initiated a school for underprivileged children, which is named after him as the Simon Estes Music High School.

Beginning in March 2010 Simon Estes embarked on his Roots & Wings Tour which will bring him to perform in all of Iowa‘s 99 counties. Simon Estes contributes 50% of his fee from these concerts to the Simon Estes Foundation in Des Moines, Iowa to support scholarships for graduating high school seniors in the counties where he has performed. To date 100 scholarships have been awarded totalling over $120,000 to students across Iowa pursuing a wide range of academic studies in a college or university of the recipients‘ choice.

Dr. Estes is also involved with the Simon Estes Foundation to develop a Young Artist Performance Program which provides young artists with performance experience necessary to advance their careers. The program engages communities across Iowa to create a cultural event with opportunities for young artists to perform.

Through the Simon Estes Foundation in Des Moines, Iowa, Simon Estes is working in partnership with the United Nations Foundation to raise funds to help eliminate malaria in Africa. On December 15th, 2013, Simon Estes gave a benefit concert at the Hilton Coluseum in Ames, Iowa to support those efforts.  Performing with Dr. Estes were 1,100 students from 52 high schools across Iowa.  The choir was named the "Iowa Students Care Choir" and was conducted by Dr. James Rodde.  The Des Moines Youth Symphony also performed under the direction of Maestro Joseph Giunta. The benefit concert raised $100,000 which the Simon Estes Foundation donated to the United Nations Foundation‘s, Nothing But Nets Campaign.

Mr. Estes' first degree was a Bachelor of Music from the University of Iowa. In the summer of 1989, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Siena College, N.Y., in the spring of 1991 a Doctor of Music Degree from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and in spring of 1994 an Honorary Doctorate from The University of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. In July, 1996, he received from the Governor of Iowa, Terry Brandstad, The Iowan Award, the State's highest honor that has been given only thirteen times since its inception more than 40 years ago. In the spring of 1997 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Iowa State University in Ames and in spring of 1998 from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. In 1999 The College of Medicine at University of Iowa designated Simon Estes as advocate of health and education for children and youth.

Of the many past awards presented to Dr. Estes more recent ones include the Distinguished Iowa Citizen Award and the prestigious Alumni Award of Iowa State University. On January 12, 2012 Simon received the Gold Medal of Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, Spain.  The award states “in recognition of his brilliant artistic career and achievements worldwide with performances of the most significant operatic characters and innumerable recordings and countless performances of starring roles which were done with the utmost professionalism and artistic sensitivity“.

In January 2014 Simon Estes was presented the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Achievement Award by Governor Terry Branstad. In February of 2014 Dr. Simon Estes was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation by the United States Department of Agriculture.  The Des Moines University gave to Dr. Estes a certificate of appointment as Adjunct Clinical Professor of Global Health.

Other tributes given his name are; The Simon Estes Amphitheater in Des Moines, Iowa; A House Resolution “115” by the State Legislature of Iowa; The Simon Estes Auditorium at Centerville High School, Centerville, Iowa; and The Simon Estes “Buck” Rose with proceeds going to his foundations.

Among the conductors with whom Mr. Estes has worked are Gerd Albrecht, Leonard Bernstein, Gary Bertini, Myung Whun Chung, James Conlon, Sir Colin Davis, Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, Carlo Maria Giulini, James Levine, Lorin Maazel, Kurt Masur, Zubin Mehta, Riccardo Muti, Seiji Ozawa, Mstislav Rostropovich, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Giuseppe Sinopoli, Sir Georg Solti, Horst Stein, Marcello Viotti and David Zinman.

Other notable artists Mr. Estes has performed with are; Grace Bumbry, Montserrat Caballe, Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo, Mirella Freni, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Birgit Nilsson, Jessye Norman, Luciano Pavarotti, Leontyne Price, Joan Sutherland, Shirley Verrett, Harry Belafonte, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, John Denver, Audrey Hepburn, Whitney Houston, Danny Kaye, Barry Manilow, Gregory Peck, Sir Peter Ustinov and famous trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

Among the recording companies with whom Mr. Estes has recorded are Auvidis, Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, Deutsche Schallplatten, EMI, Philips Classics and Sony Classical labels. He has recorded in Bayreuth Wagner's, the title role, Flying Dutchman which was also filmed and televised by Unitel. Simon sang for the centennial production of Parsifal with James Levine conducting the Orchestra and Chorus of the Bayreuth Festival. Other recordings include Bizet.s Carmen with Seiji Ozawa and Jessye Norman, Highlights from Porgy and Bess, and a collection of Broadway's Greatest Hits with Willie Anthony Waters conducting; Verdi's Requiem and Mozart's Requiem as well as Beethoven's Ninth, all conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini. With Sir Colin Davis he has recorded Handel's Messiah, the Fauré Requiem, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and Samson and Dalila from Saint-Saens; with the Vienna Philharmonic and Lorin Maazel Mahler's Symphony No. 8 and Strawinsky's Oedipus Rex with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting. His last recording of Spirituals with Donald Ryan as accompanist and arranger has been released on the Deutsche Schallplatten label and in the recording of Berthold Goldschmidt's opera Beatrice Cenci - on Sony Classical - Simon Estes has portrayed the role of Cenci.

Mr. Estes'  autobiography entitled "Simon Estes In His Own Voice" was published in 1999.

Simon Estes is a man of great Christian faith, who is grateful for the talents and gifts he has been given by God. It is Mr. Estes' desire that through his singing he can share God‘s love in order to touch peoples' heart to love God and one another.