Jessye Norman

Jessye Norman

The mentor

Published in 2005

Jessye Norman, a once-in-a-generation singer, has captivated audiences around the globe with her sumptuous voice and majestic presence. For more than three decades, the legendary soprano has staked out her own niche in the history of singing. “I follow no one’s path other than my own,” she says of her vast repertoire that ranges from opera and lieder to spirituals, jazz and contemporary music.

Exceptional talent
Miss Norman also chooses innovative collaborators such as Robert Wilson, André Heller, Bill T. Jones and Steve McQueen to broaden her repertoire and styles of performance. Composers have been commissioned to write for her voice and her first jazz CD was released in 2000.

Early Recognition
As a result of her extraordinary talent, recognized from a very early age, Miss Norman received a full scholarship from Howard University in Washington, DC at age 16. She graduated in 1967 with honours and a Bachelor of Music degree. She then attended Baltimore’s prestigious Peabody Conservatory and earned a Master of Music degree at the University of Michigan.

Miss Norman first travelled to Europe in 1968 as a participant in the German Broadcast in Corporation’s International Music Competition and won first prize. This led to many invitations to perform in Europe, including her debut in late 1969 as Elisabeth in Wagner’s Tannhäuser at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. During the 1970s, Miss Norman was heard with leading orchestras and in recital performances. She became a member of the Deutsche Oper Berlin and made her debuts at Milan’s La Scala and the Royal Opera House Covent Garden.

American Opera Debut
She also performed in Aida and as Donna Elivra in Don Giovanni with James Levine at the Hollywood Bowl. Her American staged opera debut came in 1983 when she performed the role of Cassandra in Les Troyens on opening night of the 100th anniversary season of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Miss Norman has sung at the inaugurations of Presidents Reagan and Clinton, the opening ceremonies of the Atlanta Olympic Games and the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony for former President Jimmy Carter, and was the featured soloist at the bicentennial celebration of the French Revolution, singing La Marseillaise.

Support for Young Talent
A fellowship and master class series established recently in her name at the University of Michigan School of Music attest to Miss Norman’s support for emerging talent. In September 2003, the Jessye Norman School for the Arts opened in her hometown, Augusta, Georgia. “It is absolutely necessary that young performers be given the opportunity to exchange ideas and questions with those who have more experience than they,” she says.

Scores of honorary degrees
The winner of several Grammy and Grand Prix du Disque Awards, Miss Norman has also received 32 honorary doctorate degrees and numerous distinctions, including Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (1984), the Légion d’honneur (1989), Honorary Ambassador to the United Nations (1990) and the Kennedy Center Honor (1997), making her the youngest recipient of America’s highest award in the performing arts. The Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal (2000) recognised her civic and humanitarian efforts.

Miss Norman is involved with many non-profit and charitable organizations such as City-Meals on Wheels, the New York Public Library, the New York Botanical Garden, Dance Theatre of Harlem and Girl Scouts of America. She is national spokesperson for the Lupus Foundation and The Partnership for the Homeless.