Paul Frederic Simon (born October 13, 1941) is an American musician, actor and singer-songwriter. Simon's fame, influence, and commercial success began as part of the duo Simon & Garfunkel, formed in 1964 with musical partner Art Garfunkel. Simon wrote nearly all of the pair's songs, including three that reached No. 1 on the U.S. singles charts: "The Sound of Silence", "Mrs. Robinson", and "Bridge Over Troubled Water". The duo split up in 1970 at the height of their popularity, and Simon began a successful solo career as a guitarist and singer-songwriter, recording three highly acclaimed albums over the next five years. In 1986, he released Graceland, an album inspired by South African township music. Simon also wrote and starred in the film One-Trick Pony (1980) and co-wrote the Broadway musical The Capeman (1998) with the poet Derek Walcott.
Simon has earned 12 Grammys for his solo and collaborative work, including the Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2001, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 2006 was selected as one of the "100 People Who Shaped the World" by Time magazine. In 2011, Rolling Stone magazine named Simon as one of the100 Greatest Guitarists. Among many other honors, Simon was the first recipient of the Library of Congress's Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in 2007. In 1986, Simon was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Music degree from Berklee College of Music, where he currently serves on the Board of Trustees.
Simon was born on October 13, 1941, in Newark, New Jersey, to Hungarian Jewish parents. His father Louis (1916–1995) was a college professor, upright bass player, and dance bandleader who performed under the name "Lee Sims". His mother, Belle (1910–2007), was an elementary school teacher. In 1945, his family moved to the Kew Gardens Hills section of Flushing, Queens, in New York City. The musician Donald Fagen has described Simon's childhood as that of "a certain kind of New York Jew, almost a stereotype, really, to whom music and baseball are very important. I think it has to do with the parents. The parents are either immigrants or first-generation Americans who felt like outsiders, and assimilation was the key thought—they gravitated to black music and baseball looking for an alternative culture." Simon, upon hearing Fagen's description, said it "isn't far from the truth." Simon says about his childhood, "I was a ballplayer. I'd go on my bike, and I'd hustle kids in stickball." He adds that his father was a New York Yankees fan:
I used to listen to games with my father. He was a nice guy. Fun. Funny. Smart. He didn't play with me as much as I played with my kids. He was at work until late at night. ... Sometimes two in the morning."
Simon's musical career began after meeting Art Garfunkel when they were both 11. They performed in a production of Alice in Wonderland for their sixth grade graduation, and began singing together when they were 13, occasionally performing at school dances. Their idols were the Everly Brothers, whom they imitated in their use of close two-part harmony. Simon also developed an interest in jazz, folk and blues, especially in musical legends Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly.
Simon's first song written for himself and Garfunkel, when Simon was 12 or 13, was called "The Girl for Me," and according to Simon became the "neighborhood hit." His father wrote the words and chords on paper for the boys to use. That paper became the first officially copyrighted Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel song, and is now in the Library of Congress. In 1957, in their mid-teens, they recorded the song "Hey, Schoolgirl" under the name Tom & Jerry, given to them by their label Big Records. The single reached No. 49 on the pop charts.
After graduating from Forest Hills High School, Simon majored in English at Queens College, while Garfunkel studied mathematics at Columbia University in Manhattan. Simon was a brother in the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, earned a degree in English literature, and briefly attended Brooklyn Law School after graduation, but his real passion was rock and roll.
Between 1957 and 1964, Simon wrote, recorded, and released more than 30 songs, occasionally reuniting with Garfunkel as Tom & Jerry for some singles, including "Our Song" and "That's My Story". Most of the songs Simon recorded during that time were performed alone or with musicians other than Garfunkel. They were released on several minor record labels, such as Amy, Big, Hunt, King, Tribute, and Madison. He used several pseudonyms for these recordings, including Jerry Landis, Paul Kane and True Taylor. Simon enjoyed some moderate success in recording a few singles as part of a group called Tico and the Triumphs, including a song called "Motorcycle" that reached No. 97 on the Billboard charts in 1962. Tico and the Triumphs released four 45s. Marty Cooper, known as Tico, sang lead on several of these releases. A childhood friend, Bobby Susser, children's songwriter, record producer, and performer, co-produced the Tico 45s with Simon. That year, Simon reached No. 99 on the pop charts as Jerry Landis with the novelty song "The Lone Teen Ranger." Both chart singles were released on Amy Records.
In early 1964, Simon and Garfunkel got an audition with Columbia Records, whose executive Clive Davis was impressed enough to sign the duo to a contract to produce an album. Columbia decided that the two would be called simply "Simon & Garfunkel," instead of the group's previous name "Tom and Jerry." Simon said in 2003 that this renaming as "Simon & Garfunkel" was the first time that artists' ethnic names had been used in pop music. Simon and Garfunkel's first LP, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., was released on October 19, 1964; it consisted of 12 songs in the folk vein, five written by Simon. The album initially flopped.
Simon moved to England to pursue a solo career, touring folk clubs and coffee houses. At the first club he played, the Railway Inn Folk Club in Brentwood, Essex, he met Kathy Chitty who became his girlfriend and inspiration for "Kathy's Song," "America," and others. He performed at Les Cousins in London and toured provincial folk clubs that exposed him to a wide range of musical influences. In 1965, he recorded a solo LP The Paul Simon Songbook in England.
While in the UK, Simon co-wrote several songs with Bruce Woodley of the Australian pop group The Seekers, including "I Wish You Could Be Here," "Cloudy," and "Red Rubber Ball." Woodley's co-author credit was omitted from "Cloudy" on the Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme album. The American group The Cyrkle recorded a cover of "Red Rubber Ball" that reached No. 2 in the U.S. Simon also contributed to The Seekers catalogue with "Someday One Day," which was released in March 1966, charting around the same time as Simon and Garfunkel's "Homeward Bound."
Back on the American East Coast, radio stations began receiving requests for one of the Wednesday Morning tracks, Simon's "The Sound of Silence." Their producer, Tom Wilson, overdubbed the track with electric guitar, bass guitar and drums, releasing it as a single that eventually went to No. 1 on the U.S. pop charts.
The song's success drew Simon back to the United States to reunite with Garfunkel. Together they recorded four more influential albums: Sounds of Silence; Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme; Bookends; and the hugely successful Bridge over Troubled Water. Simon and Garfunkel also contributed extensively to the soundtrack of the Mike Nichols film The Graduate (1967), starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft. While writing "Mrs. Robinson," Simon originally toyed with the title "Mrs. Roosevelt". When Garfunkel reported this indecision over the song's name to the director, Nichols replied, "Don't be ridiculous! We're making a movie here! It's Mrs. Robinson!"
Simon and Garfunkel returned to England in the fall of 1968 and did a church concert appearance at Kraft Hall, which was broadcast on the BBC, and also featured Paul's brother Ed on a performance of the instrumental "Anji."
Simon pursued solo projects after Bridge over Troubled Water, reuniting occasionally with Garfunkel for various projects, such as their 1975 Top Ten single "My Little Town." Simon wrote it for Garfunkel, whose solo output Simon judged as lacking "bite." The song was included on their respective solo albums—Paul Simon's Still Crazy After All These Years and Garfunkel's Breakaway. Contrary to popular belief, the song is not autobiographical of Simon's early life in New York City. In 1981, they reunited again for the famous concert in Central Park, followed by a world tour and an aborted reunion album, to have been entitled Think Too Much, which was eventually released (without Garfunkel) as Hearts and Bones. Together, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
In 2003, Simon and Garfunkel reunited once again when they received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. This reunion led to a U.S. tour—the acclaimed "Old Friends" concert series—followed by a 2004 international encore that culminated in a free concert at the Colosseum in Rome that drew 600,000 people. In 2005, the pair sang "Mrs. Robinson" and "Homeward Bound," plus "Bridge Over Troubled Water" with Aaron Neville, in the benefit concert From the Big Apple to The Big Easy – The Concert for New Orleans (eventually released as a DVD) for Hurricane Katrina victims.
The pair reunited six years later in New Orleans at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
After Simon and Garfunkel split in 1970, Simon began to write and record solo material. His album Paul Simon was released in January 1972, preceded by his first experiment with world music, the Jamaican-inspired "Mother and Child Reunion," considered one of the first examples of reggae by a white musician. The single was a hit, reaching both the American and British Top 5. The album received universal acclaim, with critics praising the variety of styles and the confessional lyrics, reaching No. 4 in the U.S. and No. 1 in the UK and Japan. It later spawned another Top 30 hit with "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard".
Simon's next project was the pop-folk album, There Goes Rhymin' Simon, released in May 1973. It contained some of his most popular and polished recordings. The lead single, "Kodachrome," was a No. 2 hit in America, and the follow-up, the gospel-flavored "Loves Me Like a Rock" was even bigger, topping the Cashbox charts. Other songs, like the weary "American Tune" or the melancholic "Something So Right" —a tribute to Simon's first wife, Peggy— which received an Grammy Award nomination for Best Song of the Year. Both songs became standards in the musician's catalogue. Critical and commercial reception for this second album was even stronger than for his debut. At the time, reviewers noted how the songs were fresh and unworried on the surface, while still exploring socially and politically conscious themes on a deeper level. The album reached No. 1 on the Cashbox album charts. As a souvenir for the tour that came next, in 1974 it was released as a live album, Live Rhymin', which was moderately successful and displayed some changes in Simon's music style, adopting world and religious music.
Highly anticipated, Still Crazy After All These Years was his next album. Released in October 1975 and produced by Simon and Phil Ramone, it marked another departure. The mood of the album was darker, as he wrote and recorded it in the wake of his divorce. Preceded by the feel-good duet with Phoebe Snow, "Gone at Last" (a Top 25 hit) and the Simon & Garfunkel reunion track "My Little Town" (a No. 9 on Billboard), the album was his only No. 1 on the Billboard charts to date. The 18th Grammy Awards named it the Album of the Year and Simon's performance the year's Best Male Pop Vocal. With Simon in the forefront of popular music, the third single from the album, "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" reached the top spot of the Billboard charts, his only single to reach No. 1 on this list. Also, on May 3, 1976, Simon put together a benefit show at Madison Square Garden to raise money for the New York Public Library. Phoebe Snow, Jimmy Cliff and the Brecker Brothers also performed. The concert produced over $30,000 for the Library.
After three back-to-back successful studio albums, Simon became less productive during the second half of the 1970s. He dabbled in various projects, including writing music for the film Shampoo, which became the music for the song "Silent Eyes" on the "Still Crazy" album, and acting (he was cast as Tony Lacey in Woody Allen's film Annie Hall). He achieved another hit in this decade, with the lead single of his 1977 compilation, Greatest Hits, Etc., "Slip Slidin' Away," reaching No. 5 in the United States.
In 1980 he released One-Trick Pony, his debut album with Warner Bros. Records and his first in almost five years. It was paired with the motion picture of the same name, which Simon wrote and starred in. Although it produced his last Top 10 hit with the upbeat "Late in the Evening" (also a No. 1 hit on the Radio & Records American charts), the album did not sell well, in a music market dominated by disco music. Simon recorded Hearts and Bones, a polished and confessional album that was eventually viewed as one of his best works, but that marked a lull in his commercial popularity; both the album and the lead single, "Allergies," missed the American Top 40. Hearts and Bones included "The Late Great Johnny Ace," a song partly about Johnny Ace, an American R&B singer, and partly about slain Beatle John Lennon. A successful U.S. solo tour featured Simon and his guitar, with a recording of the rhythm track and horns for "Late In The Evening." In January 1985, Simon lent his talent to USA for Africa and performed on the relief fundraising single "We Are the World."
As he commented years later, after the disappointing commercial performance of Hearts and Bones, Simon felt he had lost his inspiration to a point of no return, and that his commercial fortunes were unlikely to change. While driving his car in late 1984 in this state of frustration, Simon listened to a cassette of the Boyoyo Boys' instrumental "Gumboots: Accordion Jive Volume II" which had been lent to him by Heidi Berg, a singer songwriter he was working with at the time. Lorne Michaels had introduced Paul to Heidi when Heidi was working as the bandleader for Lorne's "The New Show". Interested by the unusual sound, he wrote lyrics to the number, which he sang over a re-recording of the song. It was the first composition of a new musical project that became the celebrated album Graceland, an eclectic mixture of musical styles including pop, a cappella, isicathamiya, rock, and mbaqanga. Simon felt that he had nothing to lose. He went to South Africa in an attempt to embrace the culture and find the most comfortable environment for recording the album. Sessions in Johannesburg took place in February 1985. Overdubbing and additional recording was done in April 1986, in New York. The sessions featured many South African musicians and groups, particularly Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Simon also collaborated with several American artists, singing a memorable duet with Linda Ronstadt in "Under African Skies," and playing with Los Lobos in "All Around the World or The Myth of the Fingerprints."
Warner Bros. Records had serious doubts about releasing an album of this eclecticism to the mainstream, but when it did in August 1986, Graceland was praised by critics and the public, and became Simon's most successful solo album. Slowly climbing the worldwide charts, it reached #1 in many countries, including the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—and peaked at #3 in the U.S. It was the second-best-selling album of 1987 in the US, selling five million copies and eventually reaching 5x Platinum certification. Another seven million copies sold internationally, making it his best-selling album. Much of the success of the album was due to the lead single, the upbeat "You Can Call Me Al," whose lyrics describe a man experiencing an identity crisis. The track featured many memorable elements—a catchy synthesizer riff (played by Adrian Belew of King Crimson], an easy whistle solo, and an unusual bass run, in which the second half was a reversed recording of the first half. "You Can Call Me Al" was accompanied by a humorous video featuring actor Chevy Chase, which introduced Simon to a new audience through MTV. In the end, the track reached UK Top 5 and the U.S. Top 25. Further singles, including the title track, "The Boy in the Bubble" and "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes," were not commercial hits but became radio standards and were highly praised.
At age 45, Simon found himself back at the forefront of popular music. He received the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 1987 and also Grammy Award for Record of the Year for the title track one year later. He also embarked on the very successful Graceland Tour, which was documented on music video. Simon found himself embracing new sounds, which some critics viewed negatively—however, Simon reportedly felt it was a natural artistic experiment, considering that world music was already present on much of his early work, including such Simon & Garfunkel hits as "El Condor Pasa" and his early solo recording "Mother and Child Reunion," which was recorded in Kingston, Jamaica. One way or another, Warner Bros. Records (who by this time controlled and reissued all his previous Columbia albums) re-established Simon as one of their most successful artists. In an attempt to capitalize on his renewed success, WB Records released the album Negotiations and Love Songs in November 1988, a mixture of popular hits and personal favorites that covered Simon's entire career and became an enduring seller in his catalog.
After Graceland, Simon decided to extend his roots with the Brazilian music-flavored The Rhythm of the Saints. Sessions for the album began in December 1989, and took place in Rio de Janeiro and New York, featuring guitarist JJ Cale and many Brazilian and African musicians. The tone of the album was more introspective and relatively low-key compared to the mostly upbeat numbers of Graceland. Released on October 1990, the album received excellent critical reviews and achieved very respectable sales, peaking at #4 in the U.S. and No. 1 in the UK. The lead single, "The Obvious Child," featuring the Grupo Cultural Olodum, became his last Top 20 hit in the UK and appeared near the bottom of the Billboard Hot 100. Although not as successful as Graceland, The Rhythm of the Saints was received as a competent successor and consistent complement on Simon's attempts to explore (and popularize) world music, and also received a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year.
Here are also more songs about past loves. His ex-wife Carrie Fisher says in her autobiography Wishful Drinking that the song "She Moves On" is about her. It's one of several she claims, followed by the line, "If you can get Paul Simon to write a song about you, do it. Because he is so brilliant at it."
The success of both albums allowed Simon to stage another New York concert. On August 15, 1991, almost a decade after his concert with Garfunkel, Simon staged a second concert in Central Park with African and South American bands. The success of the concert surpassed all expectations, and reportedly over 750,000 people attended—one of the largest concert audiences in history. He later remembered the concert as, "...the most memorable moment in my career." The success of the show led to both a live album and an Emmy-winning TV special. In the middle, Simon embarked on the successful Born at the Right Time Tour, and promoted the album with further singles, including "Proof"—accompanied with a humorous video that again featured Chevy Chase, and added Steve Martin. On March 4, 1992, he appeared on his own MTV Unplugged, offering renditions of many of his most famous compositions. Broadcast in June, the show was a success, though it did not receive an album release.
After Unplugged, Simon's place in the forefront of popular music dropped notably. A Simon & Garfunkel reunion took place in September 1993, and in another attempt to capitalize on the occasion, Columbia released Paul Simon 1964/1993 in September, a three-disc compilation that received a reduced version on the two-disc album The Paul Simon Anthology one month later. In 1995 he made news for appearing at The Oprah Winfrey Show, where he performed the song "Ten Years," which he composed specially for the tenth anniversary of the show. Also that year, he was featured on the Annie Lennox version of his 1973 song "Something So Right," which appeared briefly on the UK Top 50 once it was released as a single in November.
Since the early stages of the nineties, Simon was fully involved on The Capeman, a musical that finally opened on January 29, 1998. Simon worked enthusiastically on the project for many years and described it as "a New York Puerto Rican story based on events that happened in 1959—events that I remembered." The musical tells the story of real-life Puerto Rican youth Salvador Agron, who wore a cape while committing two murders in 1959 New York, and went on to become a writer in prison. Featuring Marc Anthony as the young Agron and Rubén Blades as the older Agron, the play received terrible reviews and very poor box office receipts from the very beginning, and closed on March 28 after just 68 performances—a failure that reportedly cost Simon 11 million dollars.
Simon recorded an album of songs from the show, which was released in November 1997. It was received with very mixed reviews, though many critics praised the combination of doo-wop, rockabilly and Caribbean music that the album reflected. In commercial terms, Songs from The Capeman was a failure—it found Simon missing the Top 40 of the Billboard charts for the first time in his career. The cast album was never released on CD but eventually became available online.
After the disaster of The Capeman, Simon's career was again in an unexpected crisis. However, entering the new millennium, he maintained a respectable reputation, offering critically acclaimed new material and receiving commercial attention. In 1999, Simon embarked on a North American tour with Bob Dylan, where each alternated as headline act with a "middle" section where they performed together, starting on the first of June and ending September 18. The collaboration was generally well-received, with just one critic, Seth Rogovoy, from the Berkshire Eagle, questioning the collaboration.
In an attempt to return successfully to the music market, Simon wrote and recorded a new album very quickly, with You're the One arriving in October 2000. The album consisted mostly of folk-pop writing combined with foreign musical sounds, particularly grooves from North Africa. While not reaching the commercial heights of previous albums, it managed at least to reach both the British and American Top 20. It received favorable reviews and received a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year. He toured extensively for the album, and one performance in Paris was released to home video.
On September 21, 2001, Simon sang "Bridge Over Troubled Water" on "America: A Tribute to Heroes," a multinetwork broadcast to benefit the September 11 Telethon Fund. In 2002, he wrote and recorded "Father and Daughter," the theme song for the animated family film The Wild Thornberrys Movie, The track was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song. In 2003, he participated on another Simon & Garfunkel reunion. One year later, Simon's studio albums were re-released both individually and together in a limited-edition nine-CD boxed set, Paul Simon: The Studio Recordings 1972–2000.
At the time, Simon was already working on a new album with Brian Eno called Surprise, which was released in May 2006. Most of the album was inspired by the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Iraq invasion, and the war that followed. In personal terms, Simon was also inspired by the fact of having turned 60 in 2001, which he humorously referred to on "Old" from You're the One.
Simon showed special care about the musical venture he traveled since 1986's Graceland. As he put it, "Once you go away for a bit, you wonder who people think you are. If they don't know what you're up to, they just go by your history. I'm so often described as this person that went to other cultures, which is true, but I never thought of it that way. I suspect people are thinking, 'What culture did you go to?' But this record is straight-ahead American."
Surprise was a commercial hit, reaching #14 in the Billboard 200 and #4 in the UK. Most critics also praised the album, and many of them called it a real "comeback" for the artist. Stephen Thomas Erlewine from Allmusic paid attention to the attempts of Simon in embracing his classic folk sound with Eno's electronic textures, and wrote that "Simon doesn't achieve his comeback by reconnecting with the sound and spirit of his classic work; he has achieved it by being as restless and ambitious as he was at his popular and creative peak, which makes Surprise all the more remarkable." The album was supported with the successful Surprise Tour.
On March 1, 2007, Simon made headlines again when the Library of Congress announced that he would be the first recipient of the recently created Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. Simon received the prize during a concert gala at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C., on the evening of May 23. The event featured his music, and was nationally broadcast on PBS on the evening of June 27, 2007. Performers at the concert included Shawn Colvin, Philip Glass, Alison Krauss, Jerry Douglas, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Lyle Lovett, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, and Simon's former partner Art Garfunkel. On June 26, Warner Bros. released the definitive Paul Simon greatest-hits collection. The Essential Paul Simon consisted of two discs that reviewed 36 songs from his ten studio albums, and was also released on a special edition featuring a DVD of music videos and memorable live performances. The album was a commercial hit, reaching #12 in the UK.
After living in Montauk, New York, for many years, Simon relocated to New Canaan, Connecticut. He is one of a small number of performers who are named as the copyright owner on their recordings (most records have the recording company as the named owner of the recording). This noteworthy development was spearheaded by the Bee Gees after their successful $200 million lawsuit against RSO Records, which remains the largest successful lawsuit against a record company by an artist or group.
All of Simon's solo recordings, including those originally issued by Columbia Records, are currently distributed by Sony Records' Legacy Recordings unit. His albums were issued by Warner Music until mid-2010.
In February 2009, Simon performed back-to-back shows in his native New York City at the Beacon Theatre, which had recently been renovated. Simon was reunited with Art Garfunkel at the first show as well as with the cast of The Capeman; also playing in the band was Graceland bassist Bakithi Kumalo.
In May 2009, Simon toured with Art Garfunkel in Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.
In October 2009, Simon appeared alongside Art Garfunkel at the 25th Anniversary of The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The pair performed four of their most popular songs, "The Sound of Silence," "The Boxer," "Cecilia," and "Bridge Over Troubled Water."
In mid-2010, Simon moved his catalog of solo work from Warner Bros. Records to Sony/Columbia Records where Simon and Garfunkel's catalog is. Simon's back catalog of solo recordings would be marketed by Sony Music's Legacy Recordings unit.
Simon's latest album entitled So Beautiful or So What, was released on the Concord Music Group label on April 12, 2011. The album received high marks from the artist, "It's the best work I've done in 20 years." It was reported that Simon attempted to have Bob Dylan guest on the album.
On November 10, 2010, Simon released a new song called "Getting Ready for Christmas Day". It premiered on National Public Radio, and was included on the album So Beautiful Or So What. The song samples a 1941 sermon by the Rev. J.M. Gates, also entitled "Getting Ready for Christmas Day". Simon performed the song live on The Colbert Report on December 16, 2010. The first video featured J.M. Gates' giving the sermon and his church in 2010 with its display board showing many of Simon's lyrics; the second video illustrates the song with cartoon images.
In the premiere show of the final season of The Oprah Winfrey Show on September 10, 2010, Simon surprised Oprah and the audience with a song dedicated to Oprah and her show lasting 25 years (an update of a song he did for her show's 10th anniversary).
Rounding off his 2011 World Tour, which included United States, England, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany, Simon appeared at Ramat Gan Stadium in Israel in July 2011, making his first concert appearance in Israel since 1983. On September 11, 2011, Paul Simon performed "The Sound of Silence" at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, site of the World Trade Center, on the 10th Anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
On February 26, 2012, Simon paid tribute to fellow musicians Chuck Berry and Leonard Cohen who were the recipients of the first annual PEN Awards for songwriting excellence at the JFK Presidential Library in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1986 Simon was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Music degree from Berklee College of Music where he currently serves on the Board of Trustees.
On June 5, 2012 Simon released a 25th anniversary box set of 'Graceland', which included a remastered edition of the original album, the "Under African Skies" documentary film, the original 1987 "African Concert" from Zimbabwe, an audio narrative "The Story of 'Graceland'" as told by Paul Simon, and other interviews and paraphernalia. He played a few concerts in Europe with the original musicians to commemorate the anniversary.
On December 19, 2012, Simon performed at the funeral of Victoria Leigh Soto, a teacher killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
On June 14, 2013, Simon performed "The Boxer" and "Fields of Gold" with Sting at Sting's Back to Bass Tour.
In September 2013, Simon delivered the Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature at Emory University.
In an in-depth interview reprinted in American Songwriter, Simon discusses the craft of songwriting with music journalist Tom Moon. In the interview, Simon explains the basic themes in his songwriting: love, family, social commentary, etc., as well as the overarching messages of religion, spirituality, and God in his lyrics. Simon goes on in the interview to explain the process of how he goes about writing songs, "The music always precedes the words. The words often come from the sound of the music and eventually evolve into coherent thoughts. Or incoherent thoughts. Rhythm plays a crucial part in the lyric-making as well. It’s like a puzzle to find the right words to express what the music is saying."
In the late 1990s, Simon wrote and produced a Broadway musical called The Capeman, which lost $11 million during its 1998 run. In April 2008, the Brooklyn Academy of Music celebrated Paul Simon's works, and dedicated a week to Songs From the Capeman with a good portion of the show's songs performed by a cast of singers and the Spanish Harlem Orchestra. Simon himself appeared during the BAM shows, performing "Trailways Bus" and "Late In the Evening". In August 2010, The Capeman was staged for three nights in the Delacorte Theatre in New York's Central Park. The production was directed by Diane Paulus and produced in conjunction with The Public Theater.
Simon has also dabbled in acting. He played music producer Tony Lacey in the 1977 Woody Allen film Annie Hall, and wrote and starred in 1980s One Trick Pony as Jonah Levin, a journeyman rock and roller. Simon also wrote all the songs in the film. Paul Simon also appeared on The Muppet Show (the only episode to use only the songs of one songwriter, Simon). In 1990, he played the character of—appropriately enough—Simple Simon on the Disney channel TV movie, Mother Goose Rock 'n' Rhyme.
Simon has also appeared on Saturday Night Live (SNL) either as host or musical guest for a total of 13 times. On one appearance in the late 1980s, he worked with his political namesake, Illinois Senator Paul Simon. Simon's most recent SNL appearance was on the March 9, 2013 episode hosted by Justin Timberlake as a member of the Five-Timers Club.
In 1978, Paul Simon made a cameo in the movie, The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash.
In one SNL skit from 1986 (when he was promoting Graceland), Simon plays himself, waiting in line with a friend to get into a movie. He amazes his friend by remembering intricate details about prior meetings with passers-by, but draws a complete blank when approached by Art Garfunkel, despite the latter's numerous memory prompts.
Simon also appeared alongside George Harrison as musical guest on the Thanksgiving Day episode of SNL (November 20, 1976). The two performed "Here Comes the Sun" and "Homeward Bound" together, while Simon performed "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" solo earlier in the show. On that episode, Simon opened the show performing "Still Crazy After All These Years" in a turkey outfit, since Thanksgiving was the following week. About halfway through the song, Simon tells the band to stop playing because of his embarrassment. After giving a frustrating speech to the audience, he leaves the stage, backed by applause. Lorne Michaels positively greets him backstage, but Simon is still upset, yelling at him because of the humiliating turkey outfit. This is one of SNL 's most played sketches.
On September 29, 2001, Simon made a special appearance on the first SNL to air after the September 11, 2001 attacks. On that show, he performed "The Boxer" to the audience and the NYC firefighters and police officers. He is also a friend of former SNL star Chevy Chase, who appeared in his video for "You Can Call Me Al" lip synching the song while Simon looks disgruntled and mimes backing vocals and the playing of various instruments beside him. Chase would also appear in Simon's 1991 video for the song "Proof" alongside Steve Martin. He is a close friend of SNL producer Lorne Michaels, who produced the 1977 TV show The Paul Simon Special, as well as the Simon and Garfunkel concert in Central Park four years later. Simon and Lorne Michaels were the subjects of a 2006 episode of the Sundance channel documentary series, Iconoclasts.
He has been the subject of two films by Jeremy Marre, the first on Graceland, the second on The Capeman.
On November 18, 2008, Simon was a guest on The Colbert Report promoting his book Lyrics 1964–2008. He did an interview with Stephen Colbert and then performed "American Tune".
Simon performed a Stevie Wonder song at the White House in 2009, at an event honoring Wonder's musical career and contributions.
In May 2009, The Library of Congress: Paul Simon and Friends Live Concert was released on DVD, via Shout! Factory. The PBS concert was recorded in 2007.
In April 2011 Simon was confirmed to appear at the Glastonbury music festival in England.
Simon has won 12 Grammy Awards (one of them a Lifetime Achievement Award) and five Grammy nominations, the most recent for his album You're the One in 2001. In 1998 he received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award for the Simon & Garfunkel album Bridge Over Troubled Water. He received an Oscar nomination for the song "Father and Daughter" in 2002. He is also a two-time inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; as a solo artist in 2001, and in 1990 as half of Simon & Garfunkel.
In 2001, Simon was honored as MusiCares Person Of The Year. The following year, he was one of the five recipients of the annual Kennedy Center Honors, the nation's highest tribute to performing and cultural artists. In 2005, Simon was saluted as a BMI Icon at the 53rd Annual BMI Pop Awards. Simon's songwriting catalog has earned 39 BMI Awards including multiple citations for "Bridge Over Troubled Water," "Mrs. Robinson," "Scarborough Fair" and "The Sound of Silence". As of 2005, he has amassed nearly 75 million broadcast airplays, according to BMI surveys.
In 2006, Simon was selected by Time Magazine as one of the "100 People Who Shaped the World."
In 2007, Simon received the first annual Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. (Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney followed in 2009 and 2010.) Named in honor of George and Ira Gershwin, this new award recognizes the profound and positive effect of popular music on the world’s culture. On being notified of the honor, Simon said, “I am grateful to be the recipient of the Gershwin Prize and doubly honored to be the first. I look forward to spending an evening in the company of artists I admire at the award ceremony in May. I can think of a few who have expressed my words and music far better than I. I’m excited at the prospect of that happening again. It’s a songwriter’s dream come true." Among the performers who paid tribute to Simon were Stevie Wonder, Alison Krauss, Jerry Douglas, Lyle Lovett, James Taylor, Dianne Reeves, Marc Anthony, Yolanda Adams, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The event was professionally filmed and broadcast and is now available as Paul Simon and Friends.
In 2010, Simon received an honorary degree from Brandeis University, where he performed "The Boxer" at the main commencement ceremony.
In October 2011, Simon was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Science. At the induction ceremony, he performed "American Tune."
In 2012, Simon was awarded the Polar Music Prize.
When Simon moved to England in 1964, he met Kathleen Mary "Kathy" Chitty (born 1947) on April 12, 1964, at the first English folk club he played, The Hermit Club in Brentwood, Essex, where Chitty worked part-time selling tickets. She was 17, he was 22, and they fell in love. Later that year they visited the U.S. together, touring around mainly by bus. Kathy returned to England on her own with Simon returning to her some weeks later. When Simon returned to the U.S. with the growing success of "The Sound of Silence", Kathy, who was quite shy wanted no part of the success and fame that awaited Simon and they split up. She is mentioned by name in at least two of his songs: "Kathy's Song" and "America," and is referred to in "Homeward Bound" and "The Late Great Johnny Ace." There is a photo of Simon and Kathy on the cover of The Paul Simon Songbook.
Simon has been married three times, first to Peggy Harper in late autumn 1969. They had son Harper Simon in 1972 and divorced in 1975. The song "Train in the Distance," from Simon's 1983 album Hearts and Bones, is about this relationship. Simon's 1972 song "Run That Body Down," from his second solo album, casually mentions both himself and his then-wife ("Peg") by name.
His second marriage, from 1983 to 1984, was to actress and author Carrie Fisher to whom he proposed after a New York Yankees game. The song "Hearts and Bones" was written about this relationship. The song "Graceland" is also thought to be about seeking solace from the end of this relationship by taking a road trip. A year after divorcing, Simon and Fisher resumed their relationship for several years.
His third wife is folk singer Edie Brickell whom he married on May 30, 1992. They have three children: Adrian, Lulu, and Gabriel.
Paul Simon and his younger brother, Eddie Simon, founded The Guitar Study Center in New York City. The Guitar Study Center later became part of The New School in New York City.
Simon is a proponent of music education for children. In 1970, after recording his "Bridge Over Troubled Water," at the invitation of the NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, Simon held auditions for a young songwriter's workshop. Advertised in the Village Voice, the auditions brought hundreds of hopefuls to perform for Simon. Among the six teenage songwriters Simon selected for tutelage were Melissa Manchester, Tommy Mandel and rock/beat poet Joe Linus, with Maggie and Terre Roche (the Roche Sisters), who later sang back-up for Simon, joining the workshop in progress through an impromptu appearance.
Simon invited the six teens to experience recording at Columbia studios with engineer Roy Halee at the board. During these sessions, Bob Dylan was downstairs recording the album Self-Portrait, which included a version of Simon's "The Boxer". Violinist Isaac Stern also visited the group with a CBS film crew, speaking to the young musicians about lyrics and music after Joe Linus performed his song "Circus Lion" for Stern.
Manchester later paid homage to Simon, on her recorded song, "Ode to Paul." Other younger musicians Simon has mentored include Nick Laird-Clowes, who later co-founded the band The Dream Academy. Laird-Clowes has credited Simon with helping to shape the band's biggest hit, "Life in a Northern Town".
In 2003, Simon signed on as an official supporter of Little Kids Rock, a nonprofit organization that provides free musical instruments and free lessons to children in public schools throughout the U.S. He sits on the organization's board of directors as an honorary member.
Simon is also a major benefactor and one of the co-founders, with Dr. Irwin Redlener, of the Children's Health Project and The Children's Health Fund which started by creating specially equipped "buses" to take medical care to children in medically underserved areas, urban and rural. Their first bus was in the impoverished South Bronx of New York City, but they now operate in 12 states, including on the Gulf Coast. It has expanded greatly, partnering with major hospitals, local public schools and medical schools and advocating policy for children's health and medical care.
In May 2012, Paul Simon performed at a benefit dinner for the Turkana Basin Institute in New York City, raising more than $2 million for Richard Leakey's research institute in Africa.