Home > Uncategorized > February 24 – Jessye Norman

February 24 – Jessye Norman

Today my throat is on fire… the inevitable result of being sick and talking too much. Another regrettable byproduct of that combination: the temporary inability to sing or hum anything recognizable. I was drifting between thoughts of this and BHM when I suddenly had a flashback to my 8th grade humanities class. Mrs. Callaway was teaching a lesson on music and mythology, and had set aside an hour to watch a portion of Die Walküre(The Valkyrie) from Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). Having seen very little opera, and not knowing what to expect, I was surprised to see a Black female performing. Surprise soon gave way to sheer amazement as we watched this commanding female deliver a performance exploding with power and range. The woman we were watching was none other than Jessye Norman.

Jessye Mae Norman was born in Augusta, Georgia on September 15, 1945. Both parents, her 4 siblings and her grandmother were all amateur musicians, so it’s easy to see how and why she learned the piano when she could barely walk, was singing in public by the age of six, and had become transfixed with opera by the age of nine. Like Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price before her, she dreamt of someday becoming an African-American opera singer. With this goal in mind, she studied music formally at Howard University (bragging rights to whomever can remember the other Howard alum we featured this month!), the Peabody Conservatory, and the University of Michigan.

After graduating, Jessye traveled to Europe to gain experience and make a name for herself. She debuted at the Deutsche Oper Berlin in their 1969 production of Tannhaeuser and became a sensation almost overnight. Fans and music critics alike instantly recognized a bright new talent who possessed not only a phenomenal voice rich in size, range and emotion, but also a maturity and sensitivity which allowed her to fully explore and embody the roles she took on. Soon, invitations came pouring in for her to perform in operas and recitals all over the world. Throughout her illustrious career, she has entertained royalty, heads of state, and adoring fans, while winning countless awards along the way.

Now, at the age of 65, Jessye no longer performs in full ensemble operas, but continues to stay busy singing in recitals and concerts, serving on the Board of Directors for Carnegie Hall, the New York Public Library, the New York Botanical Garden, City-Meals-on-Wheels in New York City, Dance Theatre of Harlem, National Music Foundation, AND the Elton John AIDS Foundation, and curating an annual festival called Honor!, which “honors the courageous African-American trailblazers and artists of the past with concerts, recitals, lectures, panel discussions, and exhibitions.”

thanks for reading,


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