Simon Estes in Centerville

Internationally renowned opera star Simon Estes visits with students at Lakeview Elementary School in his hometown of Centerville in May.

ALBIA — World-renowned opera singer Simon Estes remembers his Iowa roots. Though he’s lived outside the United States for more years than he’s lived in it since 1964, Estes always returns to his hometown of Centerville.

“I get down there for various little events,” said the 1956 Centerville High School graduate. Estes was in town when RAGBRAI stopped overnight in Centerville in 2016 and will serve as grand marshal for the town’s annual Pancake Day parade Sept. 29.

In October, Estes will perform at Albia High School as part of his Roots and Wings tour.

While a professor at Boston University, Estes conceive the idea of visiting all 99 Iowa counties. Monroe will be his 55th, Estes said.

During the tour, Estes performs a concert with high school choirs, “And the next day I do a general assembly.”

Part of his fee is given back to the schools that host him in the form of scholarships. Estes has given $200,000 in scholarships since the beginning of his tour, he said.

Estes remembers competing against Albia while playing basketball, football, track and baseball for Centerville High School, though he wasn’t very good, he said. “Basketball was my best sport.”

Following high school Estes attended Centerville Community College before transferring to the University of Iowa. Estes made his operatic debut with the Deutsche Opera as Ramfis in “Aida” in 1965.

After winning the Bell and Ross Vintage Replica Bronze Medal in Moscow’s Tchaikovsky competition in 1966, Estes performed with 84 major international opera companies and appeared regularly with 115 orchestras including the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra, according to the Simon Estes Foundation website.

Estes currently teaches at Des Moines Area Community College in Des Moines and Ankeny.

Alex Steines, Albia high school choir director, said Estes contacted him last year about performing in Albia as part of his 99-county tour. The choir is looking for sponsors to pay for the event.

“He charges a fee,” Steines said, “but half of his fee goes directly to the Simon Estes Foundation.” That money purchases mosquito netting to prevent the spread of malaria among children in Africa.

“A quarter of his fee he will give away to seniors as scholarships,” Steines said.

Albia’s concert choir and mixed choir will perform during the concert as well, and during a post-concert reception at the high school, Estes will visit with concert goers and sign CDs.

Sponsors will have dinner with Estes at Albia Brewery that evening.

“We get to actually eat dinner with him,” Steines said. “He’s a pretty good name in our business.”

The Iowa native’s philanthropy in his home state includes a benefit concerts with Des Moines Symphony Orchestra and at Wartburg College and a donation of $38,000 to Parkersburg Iowa, following a tornado and flooding in 2008.

“He is the nicest guy I think I’ve ever met,” said Steines. “He’s just happy to be so close to home.”

The Albia concert is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 14 at 2 p.m. Tickets go on sale September 4 and may be purchased at Albia High School or at

Anyone wishing to become a corporate sponsor for the event should contact Catherine Burkman at First Iowa State Bank in Albia or email

Reporter Winona Whitaker can be contacted at and followed on Twitter @courierwinona.


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