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.
Many historic musical events have marked Mr. Estes' long and illustrious career. He has sung for Presidents George Bush, Sr., Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. In 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. 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.
Mr. Estes has been awarded Honorary Doctorates from six colleges and universities, and in July, 1996, he received The Iowan Award, the State's highest honor that has been given only thirteen times since its inception more than 40 years ago. In 1999, The College of Medicine at University of Iowa designated Simon Estes as advocate of health and education for children and youth.
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 Coliseum in Ames, Iowa, to support those efforts. Performing with Dr. Estes were 1,100 students from 52 high schools across Iowa. The benefit concert raised $100,000 which the Simon Estes Foundation donated to the United Nations Foundation‘s Nothing But Nets campaign. In one Ames concert alone, he raised over $100,000 in donations. To date, he has raised $532,000 and is the first Iowan to donate over $500,000. In 2017, the Nothing But Nets campaign honored him with the Lifetime Impact Award.
Dr. Estes has sung professionally around the world for the last five decades through to the present. Not only has he continued to bring joy to the world with his music, he has helped countless people at home and abroad. 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. He 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, 200 scholarships have been awarded, totaling over $200,000 to students across Iowa pursuing a wide range of academic studies in a college or university of the recipient’s choice.
Additionally, the Simon Estes Foundation to develop a Young Artist Performance Program 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.