When they were in the sixth grade together in Forest Hills, Queens, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel discovered they could harmonize. What they may not have realized at the time was just how far their angelic voices would carry them. Throughout the latter half of the 1960s and early 1970s the duo's literary lyrics, sculpted melodies, and, above all, exquisite harmonies combined for a folk-pop sound that propelled them to the top of the charts and left a mark on thousands of future singer-songwriters.
The first songs Simon and Garfunkel sang together were doo-wop hits, but soon they were singing their own songs. One of those was "Hey, Schoolgirl," which the duo recorded in 1957. An agent of Big Records present at the session signed them on the spot. Calling themselves Tom and Jerry ("Tom Graph" and "Jerry Landis"), they had a Top Fifty hit with "Hey, Schoolgirl" and appeared on American Bandstand. (In a 1984 Playboy interview Simon asserted that the record company agent used payola to get the record played.) Garfunkel estimates the record sold 150,000 copies. When a few follow-ups flopped, Tom and Jerry split up. When they met again in 1962, Garfunkel was studying architecture after trying to record as Arty Garr, and Simon was studying English literature but devoting most of his time to writing and selling his songs. In 1964 Simon, who had just dropped out of law school and quit his job as a song peddler for a music publishing company, took one of his originals to Columbia Records producer Tom Wilson. Wilson bought the song and signed the Everly Brothers –influenced duo.
Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. — a set that combined traditional folk songs with Simon's originals and Dylan anthems like "The Times They Are A-Changin'," performed solely by the two singers accompanied by Simon's acoustic guitar — was lost in the glut of early Dylan imitators. Simon went to work the folk circuit in London, where in May 1965 he recorded a solo album. Several months later, he was performing around England and the Continent when he received the news that Wednesday's "The Sounds of Silence" was the Number One single in the United States. It was not quite the song Simon and Garfunkel had recorded. Wilson (who had played a part in electrifying Dylan's music) had added electric guitars, bass, and drums to the original track. The remixed single was at the vanguard of "folk rock." Simon returned to hit the college circuit with Garfunkel and to record a second duo album. Along with the redubbed "Sounds of Silence," the album of that name comprised folk-rock remakes of many of the songs from Simon's U.K. solo album. The production was elaborate, an appropriate setting for Simon's self-consciously poetic songs and Garfunkel's angelic voice, and Simon and Garfunkel turned out to be acceptable to both teenagers (who found them relevant) and adults (who found them intelligent).
In 1966 they placed four singles and three albums in the Top Thirty (the revived Wednesday Morning, Sounds of Silence, and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme). "Homeward Bound" (Number Five), "I Am a Rock" (Number Three), and "Sounds of Silence" (Number One) reached the Top Five. Simon was not a prolific writer — most of the material on the first three Simon and Garfunkel albums had been composed between 1962 and 1965 — and once Parsley, Sage was completed, the duo's output slowed considerably. They released only two singles in 1967: "At the Zoo" (Number 16) and "Fakin' It" (Number 23). Simon was developing the more colloquial, less literary style he would bring to his later solo work; the first sign of it was the elliptical "Mrs. Robinson," composed for the soundtrack of The Graduate. The film and the soundtrack album were followed within two months by Bookends; "Mrs. Robinson" hit Number One in June 1968, Bookends soon afterward.
Simon and Garfunkel produced Bookends with engineer Roy Halee, who had worked on every Simon and Garfunkel session. (With Parsley, Sage, Halee had taken a major role in the arranging; it was Columbia's first album recorded on eight tracks.) "The Boxer" (Number Seven), Simon and Garfunkel's only release in 1969, was Columbia's first song recorded on 16 tracks.
Bridge Over Troubled Water took almost two years to make as the duo began pursuing individual projects. They often worked separately in the studio, and as their music became more complex they performed less often on stage. Their only appearance together in 1969 was on their own network television special. Around this period, Garfunkel's acting career began with a role in Catch-22. Soon after the record's release, Simon and Garfunkel staged a brief but very successful tour, which quieted rumors about a breakup, but by the time Garfunkel's second movie, Carnal Knowledge, and Simon's 1972 solo album came out, it was clear that their individual solo careers [see entries] were taking precedence.
The two left their joint career at its peak, though both have said that their initial intention was not to break up permanently but just take a break from each other. After reaching Number One in spring 1970, Bridge Over Troubled Water rode the charts for over a year and a half (spending ten weeks at the top), eventually selling over 13 million copies worldwide. The LP yielded three hit singles - the title song (a Number one hit, the biggest seller of their career), "Cecilia" (Number Four), and "El Condor Pasa" (Number 18) — and won six Grammys. In 1977 it was given the British Britannia Award as Best International Pop Album of the past 25 years, and the title song received the equivalent award as a single. To date the duo has sold more than 20 million albums in the U.S. alone.
Since 1970 the Forest Hills classmates have gotten together on a few notable occasions. The first was a benefit concert for presidential candidate George McGovern at Madison Square Garden, New York, in June 1972. (That occasion also saw the reunions of Peter, Paul and Mary and the comedy team of Mike Nichols and Elaine May.) In 1975 Simon and Garfunkel had a Top Ten hit single with "My Little Town," a song Simon wrote for Garfunkel and sang with him, which appeared on solo LPs by both. Garfunkel joined Simon to perform a selection of their old hits on Simon's 1977 television special, and the two got together again the next year in a studio with James Taylor to record a trio rendition of Sam Cooke's "(What a) Wonderful World." On September 19, 1981, Simon and Garfunkel gave a free concert for an estimated 500,000 fans in New York's Central Park, and in 1982, a double album, The Concert in Central Park, went platinum, peaking at Number Six. They embarked on an extended tour and began recording what was to have been a new Simon and Garfunkel album. Unable to resolve their creative differences, the two abandoned the project, and the material was released on the Paul Simon solo LP Hearts and Bones.
The pair performed several shows for charitable causes in the early Nineties, and in 1993 a smash 21-date sold-out run at the Paramount Theater in New York City, followed by a tour of the Far East. Though, technically speaking, these shows were not Simon and Garfunkel concerts (they performed together only in the first and last of the show's four segments; the balance was dedicated to Simon's solo work), fans seemed to feel otherwise. The two were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. In his speech Garfunkel thanked Simon for "enriching his life," before his former partner walked up the podium. ""Well, Arthur and I agree about almost nothing," Paul said. "But it´s true: I have enriched his life quite a bit now that I think about it."
Sometime between 1993 and 2003 the duo had a falling out and were barely speaking, though details of the tift have not emerged. When Simon was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist in 2001 he thanked his old friend Arthur. "I regret the ending of our friendship," he said. "I hope that some day before we die we will make peace with each other [long pause]. No rush." In February of 2003 they were given a Lifetime Achievement Award, and the organizers talked them into opening the show with a performance of "The Boxer."
Later that year Simon and Garfunkel hit the road again for a two-month Old Friends Tour that took them to 28 cities and resulted in the 2004 live album of the same name. Simon and Garfunkel reprised the tour that summer, ending with a performance at the Colosseum in Rome to a reported 600,000 fans, even larger than the audience at the 1981 Central Park show. Three years later, Simon won an award at the first PBS Gershwin Awards show, where he and Garfunkel performed "Bridge over Troubled Water." In 2009 Simon played the first show at the refurbished Beacon Theater, and Garfunkel shocked the crowd by joining him for the encores. Later that year they performed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 25th Anniversary at Madison Square Garden.
Portions of this biography appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001). Andy Greene contributed to this story.