Jessye Norman was one of the reigning divas of opera, and now the world is gathered in remembering the legendary soprano singer after her passing on Monday. The Augusta, Ga. native was born September 15, 1945, and was a champion of diversity in her field and in the arts as well.
Jessye Mae Norman was raised in a musical household and sang in her gospel choir as a child. In high school, Norman entered the Marian Anderson vocal competition in Philadelphia. While she didn’t win, her performance led to a full scholarship to Howard University where she studied voice.
After graduating in 1967, Norman continued her studies at Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory before heading off to Europe to establish herself in the opera world. 50 years ago, Norman made her operatic debut in Berlin for the production of “Tannhauser.”
Over the following decades, Norman’s regal presence and powerful range impressed even the harshest of critics, and she enjoyed the accolades of a true opera diva in every aspect over that time. In interviews, Norman, who counted the aforementioned Anderson and Leotyne Price as inspirations, spoke about the increasing diversity in opera and how she wanted to see more of it.
Using her own platform and fame, Norman joined forces with the Rachel Longstreet Foundation in 2004 to establish the Jessye Norman School of the Arts, a tuition-free program for economically disadvantaged students in her Georgia hometown.
Norman won four Grammy Awards, a Kennedy Center Honors nod, and a National Medal of the Arts, among countless other accolades and awards.
Jessye Norman was 74.
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