On November 22, 1957, the American pop duo Tom and Jerry performed its hit song “Hey, Schoolgirl” on the TV show “American Bandstand.” The pair was well-placed to write and perform the song, a flirtatious advance to a female classmate that sold 100,000 copies that autumn (“Hey, schoolgirl in the second row/The teacher's lookin' over/ So I got to whisper way down low /To say, "Who bop a loo chi bop, let's meet after school at three"), as they were both just 16 years old . Though they called themselves “Tom Graph” and “Jerry Landis,” their actual names were Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon, and they were students at Forest Hills High School in Queens, New York.
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It was only in 1964 that the pair began to record and perform as Simon & Garfunkel, creating such super-hits as “The Sound of Silence,” “Mrs. Robinson” and “Bridge over Troubled Water,” to name but a very few. They had grown up in the same neighborhood, Kew Gardens, Queens, and had known each other since 1953, when they appeared together in a school performance of “Alice in Wonderland” – Simon as the White Rabbit, Garfunkel as the Cheshire Cat.
They were both born in 1941: Simon was the son of a professional musician who played bass in a jazz group and Garfunkel’s parents were a housewife and traveling salesman. It was during junior high school that they began writing songs together, which they played at school events and bar mitzvahs. When they failed to interest a record company in giving them a contract, they booked a studio themselves and spent $2 recording “Hey, Schoolgirl.” As it turned out, Sid Prosen, owner of Big Records, was in the studio that day, and he decided to sign the pair, releasing their song that November after having them rerecord it.
The success of the song – which reached number 54 on the national Billboard charts – earned the band an invitation to lip sync it on “American Bandstand” on Thanksgiving Day, 1957, right after Jerry Lee Lewis, who performed his song “Great Balls of Fire.” “Bandstand” was then in its infancy, having premiered as a national variety show with host Dick Clark only that August. (Clark, who continued to host the show until 1989, died earlier this year.)
Even after the two started college, Simon at Queens College (followed by a brief tenure at Brooklyn Law School) and Garfunkel at Columbia University, they continued singing and recording songs, both as a duo and individually (though still under their stage names), though none had the success of “Hey, Schoolgirl.”
By the early 1960s, they had moved stylistically from rock ‘n’ roll to Greenwich Village-style folk music, and in 1964, they had an audition with producer Clive Davis at Columbia Records. That led to a contract for their first album, which at the insistence of the record company was released under their actual names. With 12 songs, five of them written by Paul Simon, “Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.,” was released on October 12, 1964 – and it went nowhere. Only after word of mouth led listeners to request airplay for “Sound of Silence” did the record company decide to re-release the album to coincide with the release of their second album, “Sounds of Silence.”
As a duo, which performed and recorded together only until 1970 (Simon recently referred to Garfunkel as “my partner in arguments”), Simon & Garfunkel put out five albums and recorded the soundtrack for Mike Nichols’ 1968 film “The Graduate.” But they have since reunited for numerous concert tours and have each had a solo career. Simon is one of the most influential singers and songwriters of the past 50 years.