Joe Simon, a baritone and arranger, was born on September 2, 1943, in Simmesport, Louisiana. As a child, he picked cotton in the fields and began singing in his father’s Baptist church. The Simons moved to Richmond, California in 1953.
He joined the Golden West Gospel Singers as a teenager. In 1959, the group changed its name to the Golden Tones and expanded its musical repertoire, releasing “Little Island Girl” and “Doreetha,” followed by the singles “You Left Me Here to Cry Alone” and “Ocean of Tears.”
Simon signed with Vee-Jay in 1964 and released a few singles there, including the R&B Top 10 hit “My Adorable One,” which he later recalled was recorded in a chicken coop. Simon’s “Let’s Do It Over” peaked at number 13 on Billboard’s R&B chart in 1965. In 1966, he released “Teenager’s Prayer,” which reached number 11 on Billboard’s R&B chart.
Simon released “The Chokin’ Kind” in 1968, which peaked at No. 1 on the R&B chart and No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, spending 12 weeks on the charts. Simon’s first million-selling single. In 1969, his singles “Farther on Down the Road” and “Yours Love” were released. Simon won a Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in 1970.
Simon charted with “Drowning in the Sea of Love,” the title song of the album of the same name, in 1971, now working with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. His single “Power of Love” topped the R&B chart in 1972, but “Drowning in the Sea of Love” was his best-selling single, selling over 1.5 million copies. He also received Grammy nominations in 1972 for “Best Rhythm & Blues Performance-Male” and “Best Album,” The Power of Love.
Simon wrote and performed the theme song for the film Cleopatra Jones in 1973. It reached number 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number three on the R&B singles chart. Two years later, in 1975, his single “Get Down, Get Down (Get on the Floor)” became the number one R&B hit and peaked at number eight on the Billboard Hot 100.
By 1984, Simon had left the secular recording industry and returned to his gospel roots as the Bishop Joe Simon Community Crusade in Flossmoor, Illinois.
He’d married Melanie Simon, a licensed esthetician, by then, and the couple would go on to have four children, seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Between 1964 and 1981, Simon released 27 albums and had 51 songs on the Pop and R&B charts in the United States. In 1999, he was named a Pioneer Award honoree by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation and inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Time to Change, his most recent album, was released in 2007. He was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame ten years later.
Joe Simon Boulevard was designated as Louisiana Highway 1 over the Atchafalaya River Bridge in Simmesport, Louisiana, in 2017.