Paul Simon was born in October 1941 in Newark, New Jersey into a Hungarian Jewish family but moved to the middle-class area of Queens as a child. Art Garfunkel was born in Forest Hills in November of the same year.
The pair became childhood friends who grew up together in Forest Hills, NY, and began making records in 1957, performing in an Everly Brothers-style and calling themselves Tom and Jerry (pictured at left).
Their first single, Hey Schoolgirl, actually made the Top 50, but a series of follow-ups went nowhere.
The pair were understandably angry when Pickwick Records released an album of Tom & Jerry recordings as a Simon & Garfunkel LP in the mid-’60s, shortly after Sounds of Silence had reinvented the duo as folk-rock stars.
The duo split up and Paul Simon continued to struggle to make it in the music business as a songwriter and occasional performer.
By the early 60s they re-teamed as a folk duo, though Simon’s pop roots would serve them well.
Signing to Columbia and now performing as Simon and Garfunkel, they recorded an initially unsuccessful acoustic debut in 1964 called Wednesday Morning 3 A.M.
They again went their separate ways, with Garfunkel resuming his academic career and Simon moving to England, where he played the folk circuit and recorded an obscure solo album.
Meanwhile, producer Tom Wilson took the strongest track from S&G’s debut album, a track called Sounds of Silence, and embellished it with electric guitars, bass, and drums.
It reached #1 early in 1966, giving the duo the impetus to reunite and make a serious go at a recording career.
Simon returned from the UK, and in 1966 and 1967 they were regular visitors to the pop charts with some of the best folk-rock of the era, including Homeward Bound, I Am A Rock and Hazy Shade Of Winter.
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966) was their first really consistent album, and Bookends (1968) actually blended previously released singles with new material and reflected their growing maturity.
One of the songs from the album, Mrs. Robinson, became one of the biggest singles of the late 60s after it was prominently featured in one of the best films of the period, The Graduate (1967), which also had other Simon and Garfunkel songs on the soundtrack.
It was unsurprising, in retrospect, that the partnership began to weaken in the late 60s. They had known each other most of their lives and while Simon was feeling constrained by working with the one collaborator, Garfunkel was starting to feel overshadowed by the songwriting talents of Simon.
They started to record some of their songs separately in the studio, barely played live in 1969 and Art began to pursue an acting career.
Their final studio album, Bridge Over Troubled Waters (1970), was an enormous hit, topping the charts for ten weeks and containing four hit singles – the title track, The Boxer, Cecilia and El Condor Pasa.
It was certainly their most musically ambitious, often employing thundering drums and lavish orchestration. It also caught the confused, reflective tenor of the times better than almost any other popular release of 1970.
They didn’t necessarily intend to split up, but their break from recording became permanent as Simon began a solo career and Garfunkel simultaneously pursued his acting and solo music careers.
They did reunite in 1975 for a Top Ten single, My Little Town and have periodically performed together since.
A concert in New York’s Central Park on 19 September 1981 attracted half a million fans and was commemorated with an international TV telecast and a live album.