Jessye Norman (b. September 15, 1945) is a recitalist as well as a Grammy-award winning opera singer. Norman is known for her powerful voice as well as for being an opera singer. As a child Norman recalls cleaning her room and listening to the radio; she had always been fond of music and credits Leontyne Price and Marian Anderson for being the starring influences in her life.
At the age of 16, Norman entered the Marian Anderson vocal competition and even though she did not win an award, her soulful voice captured the imagination of many, even at this juncture in time and she was awarded a scholarship at Howard University. In 1965, along with other members of her university, Norman became a part of the Delta Nu Chapter of Sigma Alpha Iote. After having won the National Society of Arts Award in 1966, Norman went on to graduate in 1967, with a degree in music and began her graduate level studies at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore.
So far as Jessye Norman’s career was concerned, it began soon after her graduation in 1967. Like other classical singers of her time, Norman felt that it would be better to establish herself in Europe before returning to America; hence she won the International Music Competition in Munich and managed to win herself a three year contract with the Deutsche Oper Berlin, a opera house in Berlin as a result of her former success. Fortune favored Norman and she landed a role in Wagnelis Tannhauser as Elizabeth. In 1975, she decided that it was time for a change of scenery and moved to London where she soon became a stage favorite, appearing as she did over the next five years, till 1981. During this time, Norman became a legend where music was concerned; she starred in Mendelssohn’s Elijah. Buoyant with her success in Europe, Norman decided to head back to America where she initially tried and subsequently failed to make the same breakthrough as she had before.
However, luck was with her yet again and she began to frequently appear in the US operas and as she led festivals and opera houses in Europe, which included the Edinburgh Festival, she began to successfully establish herself in the US as well. In October 1980, Norman returned to star in Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos at the Hamburg Opera in Germany. In the US, Norman finally achieved the fame she had been aiming for, when she appeared in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas as Dido. Set on a blazing trail, Norman reappeared in Germany; this time she successively starred in one of the best known plays in theater; Tristan Und Isolde.
In 1989, Jessye Norman hit headlines in France as she was invited to sing the French national anthem, La Marseillaise to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. Since the early 1990s, Norman has resided in Croton-on-Hudson in an estate known as ‘The White Gates’ and in 1990, she performed at Tchaikovsky’ s 150th birthday anniversary at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. In 1999, Norman decided to collaborate with Bill T. Jones in NYC’s Lincoln Center ‘How! Do! We! Do!’. In March 2002, Norman performed in patriotic service when she sang ‘America The Beautiful’ during the unveiling of two columns of light at a 9/11 memorial service. More recently, Norman decided to open a pilot school of arts for children in Richmond County and the school has successfully run music classes since then.