Simon Estes, Internationally Acclaimed Bass-Baritone
Simon Estes is an internationally acclaimed bass-baritone who has performed in the world’s major opera houses and in special performances for U.S. presidents and international dignitaries such as Boris Yeltsin, Yassar Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin, Nelson Mandela, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Since 2000, he has been a faculty member at Iowa State University, serving as the F. Wendell Miller Distinguished Artist-in-Residence with the Department of Music and Theatre, sharing his incredible talents and musical knowledge with students and at numerous activities and events. Estes rose from humble beginnings in Centerville, Iowa, the son of a coal miner and grandson of a slave, to become one of the world’s most accomplished opera singers, paving the way for other African Americans in the classical world. He transferred from Centerville Junior College to the University of Iowa in 1957 and was there until he was accepted in the Juilliard School of Music in 1963. Estes has honorary doctorates from numerous colleges and universities, including one from Iowa State University.
In 1965 Estes made his operatic debut in Aida at the Deutsche Opera in Berlin. Among his more than 100 lead operatic roles have been the title role in The Flying Dutchman at Bayreuth, being the first male African American to sing a major role on stage there; the role of Porgy in the Metropolitan Opera’s first production of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess; and the role of Amonasro in Aida with Leontyne Price as Aida in her “farewell performance” at the Met.
Estes is also internationally known for his humanitarian efforts for children. He established the Simon Estes Educational Foundation, which has awarded more than three million dollars in merit-based college scholarships, and the Simon Estes International Foundation for Children, which provides support for children’s health and educational needs. In 2006, he led a group of six Iowa State music faculty members to South Africa to bring music instruction to the students of the Estes school in the Cape Town area.
He has performed numerous benefit concerts to help combat HIV/AIDS and eliminate malaria in Africa. Estes was recently recognized by the United Nations Foundation for personally raising more than half a million dollars for the “Nothing But Nets” campaign, which provides funds for education and bed nets to protect people from the spread of malaria throughout the world.
Estes has taught at the Juilliard School of Music, Harvard University and Boston University. Among his many awards are the Distinguished Iowa Citizen Award, the Iowan Award, and the prestigious Alumni Award of Iowa State University.