Carlos Simon is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, where he grew up immersed in Gospel music—the only music his parents allowed him to listen to. Simon’s father was a pastor at a tiny church with no pianist, so when Simon was ten-years-old, his parents enrolled him in piano lessons so that he could become the church’s pianist. His teacher taught him to play by ear, and soon after Simon began writing and teaching songs to the congregation.
In a 2021 interview with the San Diego-Union Tribune, Simon emphasized how Gospel music and his upbringing in the African-American Pentecostal church remains a major influence on his compositions: “I’ve embedded my upbringing and background into my music, whether it’s improvising or purposely putting in certain idioms of gospel and jazz. I’m always drawing from that background.”
Simon has amassed an impressive resume for a composer of his age. As of 2022, he is the current Composer-in-Residence for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Simon was also named as one of the recipients for the 2021 Sphinx Medal of Excellence—the highest honor bestowed by the Sphinx Organization, awarded to classical Black and Latinx musicians who, early in their career, demonstrate artistic excellence, outstanding work ethic, a spirit of determination, and an ongoing commitment to leadership and their communities.
Simon has received commissions from the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Opera, Philadelphia Orchestra, Morehouse College celebrating its 150th founding anniversary, the University of Michigan Symphony Band celebrating the university’s 200th anniversary, and many more. Simon’s music has been performed by Tony Arnold, the Third Angle New Music Ensemble, Hub New Music Ensemble, the Asian/American New Music Institute, the Flint Symphony, and many other professional performance organizations. His piece, Let America Be America Again (text by Langston Hughes) will be featured in a PBS documentary chronicling the inaugural Gabriela Lena Frank Academy of Music. Simon’s work frequently integrates themes of social justice, such as his string quartet Elegy, which honors the lives of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner. Simon has also served as a member of the music faculty at Spelman College and Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia and joined the faculty of Georgetown University in 2020.
Acting as music director and keyboardist for actress and singer Jennifer Holliday, Simon has performed with Boston Pops Symphony, Jackson Symphony, and St. Louis Symphony. He has toured internationally with singer-songwriter, Angie Stone, and performed throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Simon earned his doctorate degree at the University of Michigan, where he studied with Michael Daugherty and Evan Chambers. He has also received degrees from Georgia State University and Morehouse College. Additionally, he studied in Baden, Austria at the Hollywood Music Workshop with Conrad Pope, and at New York University’s Film Scoring Summer Workshop.
—adapted by Sophia Janevic from http://coliversimon.com/
This profile was created in 2022 as part of the Song of America Fellowship Program, a project of the Classic Song Research Initiative between the Hampsong Foundation and the University of Michigan, School of Music, Theatre, and Dance.
Carlos Simon, http://coliversimon.com/.
Wood, Beth. “Classical Composer Carlos Simon Uses Music to Express Frustration and Anger, Giving Way to Hope.” Tribune. San Diego Union-Tribune, February 21, 2021. https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/entertainment/classical-music/story/2021-02-21/classical-composer-carlos-simon-uses-music-to-express-frustration-and-anger-giving-way-to-hope.