As a teenager Simon teamed up with his classmate from Queens, New York, Art Garfunkel, to form Simon and Garfunkel (first known as Tom and Jerry). Beginning with The Sounds of Silence, they were the most popular folk-pop duo of the 1960s and the musical darlings of literary-minded college-age baby boomers. In 1967 their music was a key ingredient in the success of the hit film The Graduate, and in 1970 they reached their zenith with Simon’s inspirational gospel-flavoured anthem Bridge over Troubled Water, which showcased Garfunkel’s soaring, semioperatic tenor. Simon’s best narrative song from this period, The Boxer (1969), is the streamlined dramatic monologue of a down-and-out prizefighter.
Simon’s fascination with pop vocal sound quickly expanded to include the sparkle of English folk music, the ethereal pipes and voices of Andean mountain music, and the arching passion of gospel. After he and Garfunkel broke up in 1970, his biggest solo success came in 1975 with Still Crazy After All These Years, a collection of wistful ruminations on approaching middle age.
When his popularity began to ebb, Simon jumped on the emerging world-music bandwagon. On a visit to South Africa, he met many of the musicians with whom he made Graceland (1986), an exquisite, multifaceted fusion of his own sophisticated stream-of-consciousness poetry with black South Africa’s doo-wop-influenced township jive and Zulu choral music, the album was one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful of the decade and helped put South African music on the world stage.
Among songwriters of his generation, Simon enjoyed one of the longest-lasting careers as a pop innovator. Searching out and exploring the sounds of indigenous musical cultures, from Southern gospel to Brazilian and West African percussion, he integrated them into American rock and folk styles to create a highly flexible, personalized style of world music that was at once primitive and elegant. Simon was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.