“My dad,he always gets on me. He wants me to be a preacher, but I always tell him, ‘Music is my pulpit. That’s where I preach,’” Carlos Simon reflected for The Washington Post’s ‘Composers and Performers to Watch in 2022’ list.
Having grown up in Atlanta, with a long lineage of preachers and connections to gospel music to inspire him, GRAMMY-nominated Simon proves that a well-composed song can indeed be a sermon. His music ranges from concert music for large and small ensembles to film scores with influences of jazz, gospel, and neo-romanticism.
Simon is the current Composer-in-Residence for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and frequently writes for the National Symphony Orchestra and Washington National Opera. Simon also holds the position of inaugural Composer Chair of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the first in the institution’s 143-year history. The 2023/24 season sees premiere performances with San Diego Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, The Washington Chorus, and LA Master Chorale. These follow recent other commissions from Minnesota Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Washington National Opera (in collaboration with Mo Willems), Brooklyn Art Song Society, New York Philharmonic and Bravo! Vail, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Glimmerglass Festival, Sphinx Organization, Music Academy of the West, and San Francisco Chamber Orchestra.
Simon's work spans genres, taking great inspiration from liturgical texts and writers such as Terrance Hayes, Colson Whitehead, Lynn Nottage, Emma Lazarus, Isabel Wilkerson, Ruby Aiyo Gerber, and Courtney Lett, as well as the art of Romare Bearden.
In September 2023, Simon released two albums on Decca. Together is a compilation of solo and chamber compositions and arrangements featuring Simon and guests such as J’Nai Bridges, Randall Goosby, Seth Parker Woods and Will Liverman. The work draws on Carlos’ personal experience as an artist to highlight the importance of heritage and identity, and the power of collaborative music-making. Simon also released the live premiere recording of brea(d)th, a landmark work commissioned by Minnesota Orchestra and written in collaboration with Marc Bamuthi Joseph, conducted by Jonathan Taylor Rush. “Arguably the most important commission of Simon’s career so far” (New York Times), brea(d)th was written following George Floyd’s murder as a direct response to America’s unfulfilled promises and history of systemic oppression against Black Americans.
Simon was nominated for a 2023 GRAMMY Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition for his previous album, Requiem for the Enslaved. The requiem is a multi-genre musical tribute to commemorate the stories of the 272 enslaved men, women, and children sold in 1838 by Georgetown University, released by Decca in June 2022. This work sees Simon infuse his original compositions with African American spirituals and familiar Catholic liturgical melodies, performed by Hub New Music Ensemble, Marco Pavé, and MK Zulu.
Acting as music director and keyboardist for GRAMMY Award winner Jennifer Holliday, Simon has performed with Boston Pops Symphony, Jackson Symphony, and St. Louis Symphony. He has also toured internationally with soul GRAMMY-nominated artist 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. He is an honorary member of Phi Mu Alpha Music Sinfonia Fraternity and a member of the National Association of Negro Musicians, Society of Composers International, and Pi Kappa Lambda Music Honor Society. He has served as a member of the music faculty at Spelman College and Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia and now serves as Associate Professor at Georgetown University. Simon was also a recipient of the 2021 Sphinx Medal of Excellence, the highest honor bestowed by the Sphinx Organization to recognize extraordinary classical Black and Latinx musicians, and was named a Sundance/Time Warner Composer Fellow for his work for film and moving image