Simon Estes Honored at National Museum of African American History and Culture

Sep 30, 2016

Last weekend, the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened its doors with these words from President Obama.

"As Americans, we rightfully passed on the tales of the giants that built this country, who led armies into battle, who waged seminal debates in the halls of Congress and the corridors of power. But too often, we ignored or forgot the stories of millions upon millions of others, who built this nation just as surely."

Featured in one of the exhibits is Iowa's own Simon Estes. The exhibit, about African American opera stars, includes a recording of Estes in The Flying Dutchman. He was the first black male artist to sing on the prestigious Bayreuth opera stage in Germany. Playing the lead in the opening production of the 1978 season seemed like a gamble to some.

"Some of the German press said they would boo me off the stage because they didn't want a black man to be singing there. But it ended up being, I say with humility and gratitude, a big success."

Now, that titular performance of Estes is immortalized in the first national museum dedicated to noting the excellence and contributions of African Americans to the United States. Estes says that this museum is a step in the right direction.

"It signifies that they’re finally acknowledging all of the contributions that African Americans made in this country. We were forced here, the White House was built on us. We didn’t get any acknowledgement or recognition. Finally this is representing that history."

In this Talk of Iowa interview, Charity Nebbe talks with Estes about his life, career, and what Iowa means to him.