Profile of Simon and Garfunkel

Leaders of Folk-Pop Music

Simon and Garfunkel
Photo by GAB Archive

Paul Simon (born October 13, 1941) and Art Garfunkel (born November 5, 1941) grew up together from elementary school onward, first becoming friends in the sixth grade. Together, they became one of the top folk-pop duos of all time. Their music helped define pop radio in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Early Years Together

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were both born in 1941, one month apart. They grew up in the Forest Hills neighborhood in the Queens borough of New York City. They lived just a few blocks way from each other and attended school together from elementary through high school. Their friendship began in sixth grade when they both performed in the school play production of "Alice in Wonderland."

After becoming friends, Simon and Garfunkel formed the doo-wop group the Peptones with three other classmates. As part of the vocal team, they learned how to harmonize together on vocals. In high school, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel began performing together as a duo. One day, they rode to Manhattan to record their song "Hey Schoolgirl" for $25. Promoter Sid Person overheard them and signed them to a contract with his label Big Records after speaking with their parents. 

Using the name Tom & Jerry, Simon and Garfunkel released "Hey Schoolgirl" as their first single in 1957. After Sid Person paid famed DJ Alan Freed $200 to play the song on his radio show, it reached #49 on the Billboard Hot 100. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were booked to perform on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand." Tom & Jerry released four more singles on Big Records, but none of them were hits.

Folk-Pop Stars

After attending college and recording individually as solo artists and with other performers, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel reunited in 1963 to begin performing as a folk music duo. Billing themselves as Kane & Garr in late 1963, they caught the attention of Columbia Records producer Tom Wilson performing three original songs including "The Sound of Silence." Columbia Records signed the pair and released their debut album "Wednesday Morning 3 A.M." on October 19, 1964, under the name Simon & Garfunkel.

"Wednesday Morning 3 A.M." was a commercial disappointment, selling only 3,000 copies. Paul Simon moved to England to pursue his music career. In June 1965 he released his first solo album "The Paul Simon Songbook" in the U.K., but sales there were poor. Meanwhile, a disc jockey in the U.S. began playing "The Sound of Silence." Soon, the popularity of the song spread along the East Coast. Columbia Records released a folk-rock remix of the song using new studio musicians in September 1965. Simon and Garfunkel were not notified about the new version until its release, and Paul Simon was horrified by the results. Despite his concerns, "The Sound of Silence" hit #1 on the U.S. pop chart in January 1966.

To capitalize on the success of their hit single, Simon and Garfunkel recorded an album titled "Sounds of Silence" in just three weeks. It hit stores in January 1966 and included the duo's next top 10 hits "Homeward Bound" and "I Am a Rock" on the U.K. version. "Homeward Bound" was left off the U.S. version of the album. "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme," the next Simon and Garfunkel album, became their first to hit the top 10 of the album chart. It included three top 40 pop hits, "Homeward Bound" among them. By the end of 1966, Simon and Garfunkel were top pop stars.

The duo reached the peak of their commercial success with their next two studio albums "Bookends" in 1968 and "Bridge Over Troubled Water" in 1970. Between them, the albums included four more top 10 pop hit singles, among them the #1 smash hits "Mrs. Robinson" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water." At the time "Bridge Over Troubled Water" was the bestselling album of all time and the top seller under the CBS Records umbrella until Michael Jackson's "Thriller," released in 1982.

Unfortunately, the commercial and artistic success also took a toll on Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel's personal relationship. Paul Simon began working on what would become his first solo album after the duo's breakup, and Art Garfunkel pursued an acting career. The breakup of Simon and Garfunkel became official in 1971.

Reunions

Both Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel pursued solo music careers. Paul Simon released seven top 10 charting albums including the landmarks "Still Crazy After All These Years" and "Graceland." Art Garfunkel's recording success was more modest, but 14 of his songs reached the top 30 on the adult contemporary chart.

In 1972, Simon and Garfunkel reunited onstage for the first time to perform at a benefit concert for presidential candidate George McGovern. In 1975, they recorded the single "My Little Town," a top 10 pop hit included on solo albums by both artists. One of their most celebrated reunions was the free concert in Central Park in New York City held on September 19, 1981, that drew more than 500,000 people. A 1982 concert tour followed, but it ended with a major falling out between the pair.

Simon and Garfunkel performed another reunion tour in 1993, but it ended in disaster when they disagreed on details of planned performances as a duo through the rest of the 1990s. After opening the Grammy Awards in 2003,  Simon and Garfunkel embarked on another tour, and it ended well, earning over $100 million. The most recent reunion tour took place in 2009.

Legacy

Despite their popularity, Simon and Garfunkel were often criticized by the rock music press during their heyday. Their style of folk-pop was sometimes considered too slick and processed. It was a clean and safe sound compared with folk-rock of the Byrds and the grittier psychedelic rock out of San Francisco. However, the songs of Simon and Garfunkel have earned more appreciation over time, and they remain one of the most successful folk-pop duos of all time. Many teenagers growing up in the late 1960s and early 1970s treasured the lyrics about the impact of loneliness and alienation. The incorporation of Latin and gospel influences on the album "Bridge Over Troubled Water" foreshadowed the use of creative and varied sounds in Paul Simon's solo work.

Top Songs

  • "The Sound of Silence" (1965)
  • "Homeward Bound" (1966)
  • "I Am a Rock" (1966)
  • "Mrs. Robinson" (1968)
  • "The Boxer" (1969)
  • "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (1970)
  • "Cecilia" (1970)

Awards and Honors

  • Grammy Award - Record of the Year - "Mrs. Robinson" (1969)
  • Grammy Awards - Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Album of the Year - "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (1971)
  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1990)

References and Recommended Reading

  • Eliot, Marc. Paul Simon: A Life. John Wiley and Sons, 2010.
  • Humphries, Patrick. Bookends: The Simon and Garfunkel Story. Proteus Books, 1982.
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