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Wed, 02.02.1938

Simon Estes, an International Voice

Simon Estes

*The birth of Simon Estes in 1938 is marked on this date. He is a Black classical concert vocalist.

From Centerville, Iowa, his father was a coal miner and his mother’s name was Ruth Jeter. He, his brother, and two sisters were raised in a religious household; he was also a soprano in their local Baptist church. His voice did not change until he was a senior in high school, and for about three years, his vocal ability was limited. He sang tenor in the chorus at the University of Iowa. While there, he began study with Charles Kellis, who reclassified Estes as a bass-baritone and taught him vocal technique, diction and interpretation. Kellis also exposed Estes to opera through recordings of Leontyne Price and others.

Estes was admitted to Julliard in 1964 and later received a grant to study abroad. In 1965, he made his professional debut as Ramfis in Aida at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. One year later, he received the bronze medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. In 1978, Estes became the first male African American to sing a major role on the stage at Bayreuth. He sang the title role in Der fliegende Hollander, which he considers his best, and most demanding, role. For a time, he did mostly lieder recitals and opera performances on a more limited basis, and credited that as a primary reason for the warmth and musicality of his voice. Estes has a big voice with a natural, warm texture.

He made his Metropolitan Opera debut on January 4, 1982, as the Landgrave in Wagner's Tannhauser. He preformed internationally both on the operatic and concert stages. Among his many achievements, he sang the role of Amonasro in Leontyne Price's finale at the Met in 1985. He is a bass-baritone who has helped talented students attend the Julliard School of Music in New York City where he has been a professor since 1985. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, he has established the Simon Estes Educational Foundation which has awarded over one million dollars in merit-based college scholarships.

The Simon Estes International Foundation for Children in Switzerland was established in 1993 and has saved lives by providing support for child health needs in Switzerland and Bulgaria. During the 1998-99 school year, 40 musically gifted students from the Simon Estes School, serving some of the poorest children in South Africa, attended Des Moines-area high schools under the sponsorship of Rotary District 6000 and performed throughout Iowa as the Simon Estes South African Youth Chorus. He also has been at the forefront of Artists for HIV/AIDS prevention and education leading a collective voice of artists, who through music and arts, seek to break down socio-economic barriers as well as the stigma associated with the disease.

His many engagements in the 2002/2003 season included appearances in Linz, as Amonasro in a concert version of Parsifal; in Moscow, as Jochanaan in a concert version of Salome; and in Tel Aviv, as Amonasro. Among other engagements Simon Estes performed concerts in Luzern; Tulsa, Oklahoma and Zurich, Switzerland. Among his recording credits are works on the Auvidis, Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, Deutsche Schallplatten, EMI, Phillips Classics and Sony Classical labels.

Estes is the father of three daughters, Jennifer Barbara, Lynne Ashley and Tiffany Joy. He and his wife, Ovida are spending more time in Iowa, as he is on staff with several Iowa colleges.

Reference:
The Simon Estes Foundation

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