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Joanna Simon, Opera Singer from Famously Musical Family, Dies at 85


Joanna Simon, a soprano, grew up in a musically talented family, including her two younger sisters, Carly and Lucy, before forging a career as a popular opera and concert singer. hours, passed away Wednesday in Manhattan. She is 85 years old.

Mary Ascheim, a first cousin of Simon’s, said the cause was thyroid cancer. Mrs. Simon died in the hospital the day before Lucy Simon died at the age of 82 at her home in Pierpont, NY

Miss Simon was one of the most famous American opera singers to emerge in the 1960s, a time when art budgets were plentiful, audiences were packed and glittering new music palaces were opening, among them has the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in New. York.

She debuted professionally in 1962 as Cherubino in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro at the New York City Opera. The same year, she won the Marian Anderson Award, an annual award given to a promising young singer.

She stands out for her diverse material, is fluent in foreign languages, and is willing to take risks with contemporary composers. She was the first to sing the role of Pantasilea, a maid in 16th century Italy, in “Bomarzo,” by the Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera, when it first premiered in 1967 at the Opera Society of Washington (today the Washington National Opera). That performance won her worldwide acclaim, and she performed it again in New York and Buenos Aires.

She is considered a concert singer, performing classical and contemporary songs, including “Over the Rainbow.”

A few days before a show in New York, in 1975, she tripped over the carpet in her apartment and broke her leg. Instead of leaving the show, she stood on stage on crutches.

“As soon as I made sure my voice wasn’t affected, I knew I was going to move on.” she told The New York Times.

Her charming and cute looks have made her a famous guest on TV talk shows. She sang and sat for interviews on “The Tonight Show” and “The Dick Cavett Show,” and she was a featured performer on the final original television show of “The Ed Sullivan Show” prior to its broadcast. wave in 1971.

With a passion for popular culture, Ms. Simon is not too far behind her singer-songwriter sisters. Carly Simon achieved lasting fame in the early 1970s with pop hits like “Anticipation” and “You’re So Vain”. Lucy Simon sang with Carly early on – they were called the Simon Sisters – and later found success as a composer. She received a Tony nomination in 1991 for best original score, for the musical “The Secret Garden.”

The sisters sometimes cross the street. Joanna sang back-up on Carly’s album “No Secrets” (1972) and Lucy’s album “Lucy Simon” (1975), and Carly played guitar on stage during Joanna’s performance on “The Mike Douglas Show” last year. 1971. Carly wrote her own opera, “Romulus Hunt,” which was released as an album in 1993; it has a character named Joanna, a soprano.

The sisters grew up singing and playing together and remained close as adults, avoiding the petty jealousies that often trap siblings into similar careers.

“When Lucy was 16, I envied her hourglass figure,” Joanna Simon told The Toronto Star in 1985. “When Carly first became successful, I envied the check for 200,000. her first dollar. But those feelings lasted for 20 minutes, and I didn’t mind them. I know it’s something that has been given in the world of performance that very few people have achieved with such success. I never expected that, so I’m not disappointed.”

Joanna Elizabeth Simon was born on October 20, 1936 in Manhattan, the oldest child of Richard L. Simon, a publisher and founder of Simon & Schuster, and Andrea (Heinemann) Simon, a singer and homemaker. The family lived in Manhattan and later the Fieldston area of ​​the Bronx.

The Simon children went to music early; Joanna could play the piano at the age of 6. In high school, she thought she would become an actress, although in college, at Sarah Lawrence (which Carly also later attended), she turned to comedy. Then a voice coach encouraged her to consider opera.

After graduating from literature in 1958, she continued her opera training in Vienna, then returned to New York to begin her career.

Simon, who lives in Manhattan, married Gerald Walker, a novelist and editor of The New York Times Magazine, in 1976. He passed away in 2004. She is dating Walter Cronkite until his death in 2009.

In addition to her sister Carly, she is survived by her own son, David Walker, and a stepchild. Her brother, Peter, a photojournalist, died in 2018.

Simon continued to sing professionally until the early 1980s, then gradually retired before retiring in 1986 to join the PBS show “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour” as a reporter. culture. She won an Emmy Award in 1991 for a documentary about creativity and manic depression.

Funding for the arts program at “MacNeil/Lehrer” eventually dried up, and her position was cut. Starting a new career, she became a real estate broker. Within six months, she told The Times in 1997, she sold the property for $6 million. She later became vice president of her company, Fox Civil Group.

While her musical background isn’t the key to her newfound success, she says it helps sometimes.

“When I put clients in potential apartments, I go into the next apartment and speak up,” she says. “If they can hear me, then no problem.”

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