Simon Estes speaks in Centerville on Oct. 5, 2019 at an event commemorating the opening of a museum reflecting his life at the former Second Baptist Church.

AMES — The music hall at Iowa State University is being renamed to honor one of Centerville’s most famous figures.

The Iowa Board of Regents approved a request Wednesday to rename the Music Hall at Iowa State University to the “Simon Estes Music Hall.” Estes, 81, is a native of Centerville and has been an adjunct professor at Iowa State University since 2000.

In approving naming the music hall in his honor, the Regents allowed an exception to their normal policy prohibiting current employees from being named after a current employee.

Estes grew up in Centerville, the son of a coal miner and grandson of a slave. Estes graduated from Centerville High School and went to college at the University of Iowa to study pre-medicine.

Estes’ future changed when a professor, Charles Kellis, noticed his voice and introduced him to opera.

Estes earned a place to study at the prestigious Julliard School of Music in New York. He made his debut at the Deutsche Opera as Ramfis in Aida, using financial support from the New York Community Fund and the NAACP.

Over his career, Estes has performed on six continents, including opera houses in Paris and Barcelona, the Olympic Games in Munich and the World Cup in South Africa.

Estes has sung for seven presidents: Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson and John F. Kennedy. And it’s not just American dignitaries who have enjoyed his singing.

Estes also performed for Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, heads of state from Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland and South Africa. Royalty from Monaco, England, Sweden, Norway, Romania and Spain have also heard Estes’ voice in person.

Even today, Estes still performs each fall and spring at Iowa State University’s commencement ceremonies.

Kyle Ocker can be reached at or by calling the newsroom at 641-856-6336. Follow him on Twitter @Kyle_Ocker


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