Simon Estes Foundation plans benefit concert to help fight malaria in Africa


Famed black opera singer and F. Wendell Miler Distinguished Artist in Residence Simon Estes is putting a Christmas concert to benefit children in Africa who are dying of malaria.

Devin Wilmott

As a Centerville, Iowa, native and grandson of a slave sold for $500 at auction, Simon Estes provides the world with a story of how an black man conquered operatic stardom in a time that would not allow it. Internationally renowned and applauded for his booming bass-baritone voice, Estes is known for his great humility and heart for children and young adults. 

Estes will perform in a concert at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15. The Simon Estes Foundation along with Iowa State Students Care will host a Christmas concert in efforts to purchase thousands of insecticidal nets to help children dying of malaria in Africa.

Estes created the Simon Estes Foundation along with many other organizations to serve thousands of young people across the globe. The foundations purpose is to provide scholarships to graduating high school students in Iowa and to help eradicate malaria. Aside from awards, buildings that bare his name and having performed for kings and queens, he has dedicated his life to help children.

The United Nations Foundation has partnered with Estes to help distribute, treat and educate people on how to use the nets. He hopes to fill Hilton Coliseum in its entirety and create a whole new definition to what a little “Hilton Magic” can do. Every penny made from ticket sales will go to buy nets.

Simon first heard the news of the fatalities due to malaria in Johannesburg, South Africa, during the Grand Finale Concert for the World Cup in 2010. 

Malaria, caused by a parasite called plasmodium, is transmitted from one person to another via bites of infected mosquitos. Every 30 seconds, a child dies from malaria, according to the World Health Organization. This leads to 1 million deaths every year.

ISU student Christopher Thomas, freshman in pre-architecture and a wayward cousin of Simon Estes, said he was glad to hear of Estes’ strides toward fighting against Malaria.

“When I heard that every 30 seconds a child dies from Malaria, I was instantly drawn into supporting his cause. I will definitely be attending his Christmas concert on Sunday,” Thomas said. 

About 90 percent of all malaria deaths are in Sub-Saharan Africa and though there is not yet a cure for the illness, there is a way to prevent it. 

Insecticidal nets are used as a core prevention method to eliminate the spread of malaria. The cost of a single net is $5, the same as a cup of a Starbucks drink. 

“$5 and these little children don’t have to die,” Estes said.

He has dedicated his life to buying nets for more than 1 million children with a goal to raise $1 million by the end of June 2014. To do this, he already has numerous high schools across Iowa selling his CD “Save the Children Save their Lives.” With each CD sold, $5 goes towards a net and $5 he gives to the school.

“My hope is that even though these children are half a world away, people would know that we are responsible for helping these children and would find the time to help in what Simon Estes is doing along with the foundation by attending the concert and spreading awareness,” said Paul Ferrone, executive director of the Simon Estes foundation.

The mass choir of 1,500, made up of students from 36 high school choirs in Iowa, will be conducted by James Rodde, director of choral activities at Iowa State.

Accompanied by the Des Moines Youth Symphony Orchestra, the music will consist of numerous Christmas songs and carols.  

“My legacy is one that is not about Simon Estes, but it is about what Simon Estes was able to do through being led by God,” Estes said. “My legacy is one of doing what God wanted me to do by being a servant and helping people who are in need.”

Each wall of Estes’ office at Iowa State comes together to create a timeline filled with awards, honorary doctorates and photographs of memories during his career. 

“I broke many barriers during my career,” Estes said. “I have sung more opera than any black man in the history of the world, and I have sung in more opera houses than most singers in the world.”

His career took off shortly after becoming a bronze medalist in Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Competition in 1966. Since his debut, Estes has performed with more than 115 different orchestras, played in more than 102 different roles and sung in 84 different opera houses around the world. 

For being black, Estes often was underpaid, but enduring the hardships that came with his color only furthered his success. In his autobiography, “Simon Estes: In His Own Voice,” Estes told the story of how a black child from Centerville, Iowa, entered a life he had never dreamed about.

Estes was born in 1938 in Centerville, a town of 8,500 people where only 300 of the those were black. His father worked as a coal miner who brought home no more than $40 a week, allowing Estes to taste the struggles of poverty and hatred first-hand. Since then, he has experienced the world and its changes along with the wisdom it takes to forgive and give back.

“People call me a star. I say I am not a star. The stars are in heaven and God put them there,” Estes said. “I am just a person that has been blessed, and I want to use all of the gifts that God has given to me to help young people.”

The concert is Sunday at Hilton Coliseum. Concert tickets range from $12 to $22 and can be purchased at the Iowa State Center Ticket Office or through via Ticketmaster. Student ticket prices are $5 and are available at the Athletic Ticket Office. 

For those who are interested in getting involved with the cause or donating to the malaria campaign, visit