In 1956, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were juniors at Forest Hills High School in New York, New York, who began playing together as a group called Tom and Jerry, with Simon as Jerry Landis and Garfunkel as Tom Graph, so called because he always liked to track "graph" hits on the pop charts. As seniors in 1957, they had started writing their own songs in the Everly Brothers' rock and roll style; they managed to record one of their first, Hey, Schoolgirl, for Sid Prosen of Big Records. Released on 45 and 78 rpm records, the single, backed with "Dancin' Wild" sold 100,000 copies, hitting #49 on the Billboard charts.
They later performed their hit on American Bandstand, right after Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire". (Lewis had refused to lip-synch and insisted on performing live, which was unprecedented on Bandstand.)
Subsequent efforts in 1958 did not reach near their initial success, and after high school, the duo split, with Simon enrolling at Queens College, New York, and Garfunkel matriculating into Columbia University.
They later found prominence as part of the same New York City folk music scene as Bob Dylan, with close harmony singing inspired by the Everly Brothers, married to Simon's acoustic guitar playing, in 1963. Simon, who had finished college but dropped out of Brooklyn Law School, had taken up interest in the folk scene, like Garfunkel, and showed him a few songs in the folk style he had written--"Sparrow", "Bleecker Street", and "He Was My Brother", which was later dedicated to Andrew Goodman, one of three civil rights workers murdered in Neshoba County, Mississippi, on 21 June 1964.
Shortly after finishing recording the duo effectively split again and Simon moved to England, where he recorded his solo The Paul Simon Song Book in May 1965. Recorded in about an hour at Levy's Studio, London, and featuring only Simon and his guitar, it is a refreshing souvenir of the early folk work of Paul Simon. However, the album was supposedly deleted about 1979 at Simon's request, so today it can only be found as an LP recording at record stores and fairs.
While Simon was in England that summer of 1965, radio stations around Cocoa Beach and Gainesville, Florida, began to receive requests for a song off of Wednesday Morning, 3 A. M. called "The Sound of Silence". The song also began to receive radio airplay in Boston, and seizing the chance, the duo's U.S. producer Tom Wilson, who had heard The Byrds' early folk records, dubbed in an electric guitar and drums to "The Sound of Silence" track, and released it as a single, backed with "We've Got a Groovey Thing Goin'". The dubbing turned folk into folk-rock, the debut of a new genre for the Top 40, much to Simon's surprise.
Simon immediately returned to the United States and the group re-formed for the second time to record more tracks in a similar style, though, perhaps justifiably so, neither approved of what Wilson had done with "The Sound of Silence."
The result was a sequence of folk-rock records, which have endured as well as any in the genre. Simon's lyrics were often insightful and picturesque, but leavened by a consistent dry humour.
Among the tracks on The Paul Simon Song Book rerecorded with electric backing for "Sounds of Silence" were "I Am A Rock" (which as a single reached US #3 in the summer of 1966), "Leaves That Are Green", "April Come She Will", and "Kathy's Song".
Further hit singles came, including "Scarborough Fair/Canticle", based on a traditional English ballad with an original counter-melody, and "Homeward Bound" (later US #5), about life on the road while Simon was touring in England in 1965.
More tracks from The Paul Simon Song Book were included with recent compositions on their 10 October 1966 album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, which refined the folk-rock sound hastily released on Sounds of Silence.
As their albums became progressively more adventurous, The Graduate Original Soundtrack was immediately followed in April 1968 at the top of the charts by Bookends, which dealt with increasingly complex themes of old age and loss. It features the top 25 hit singles "A Hazy Shade Of Winter", "Fakin' It", "At The Zoo", and "Mrs. Robinson", the classic from the Graduate soundtrack, which became #1 as a single.
At the March 1969 Grammy awards, "Mrs. Robinson" was named Record of the Year, while Simon was also honored with the Grammy for Best Original Score for a Motion Picture.
By 1969 the duo's success began to take its toll. Garfunkel had begun to pursue a career in acting, in Nichols' follow-up to The Graduate, starring as Nately in the movie version of Catch-22. This increasingly frustrated Simon when Garfunkel's leave interfered with the recording of the duo's next album, and it didn't help that Simon's part in the film had been cut before filming actually began.
The duo's deteriorating personal relationship continued into their late 1969 tour, which featured performances at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio on 11 November and Carbondale, Illinois on 8 November, recordings of which are supposedly widely bootlegged. Video footage of the tour was shown on their controversial 30 November television special Songs Of America, which TV sponsors refused to endorse because of its distinct anti-Vietnam War message.
Their long-delayed final album, Bridge Over Troubled Water, was at last released on 26 January 1970. Its title track featuring Garfunkel's soaring vocals was a massive hit and one of the best selling records of the decade, staying #1 on the charts for six full weeks and on the charts for far more thereafter. The album includes three other top twenty hits, including "El Condor Pasa" (US #18), "Cecilia" (US #4), and "The Boxer" -- which, finished in 1968, hit #7 on the charts the following year -- as well as a live recording of the Everly Brothers' "Bye Bye Love" from Ames, Iowa, on their 1969 tour.
At the subsequent March 1971 Grammy awards, the album and single were each named Album and Record of The Year, winning Grammys as well for Best Engineered Record, Song of The Year, Best Contemporary Song, and Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists.
After the group split later that year, Simon went on to a very successful solo music career and Garfunkel split his time between acting and occasional musical releases, neither to much acclaim. Their 1972 Greatest Hits album peaked at US #5.
The duo has reunited off and on since then, most notably for a free concert in New York's Central Park in 1981, which attracted a crowd in excess of 500,000 people and was released on LP, CD, VHS, and DVD.
In July 2002, Columbia Legacy released a previously unreleased live recording of a Simon and Garfunkel concert, Live In New York City, 1967. It features an almost-complete recording of a performance given by the duo at Philharmonic Hall, the Lincoln Center in New York City on 22 January 1967.
On 23 February 2003, Simon and Garfunkel reunited to perform in public for the first time since 1993, singing "The Sound Of Silence" as the opening act of the Grammy awards. Before the show, the duo was presented with the Grammy's Lifetime Achievement Award, honoring their musical contributions over the past four and a half decades.