Jessye Norman


Driven by her passion to love everyone, Jessye Norman strives to share her talent with anyone she encounters. Her big heart causes her to go the extra mile to ensure that each person that leaves her presence is filled with an overwhelming sense of awe as she shares her gifts and talents to the world. From a young age, she was destined to do great things as she naturally fell into the grove of music among her family and was able to achieve the great things that her parents believed she would achieve.



Early Days

Jessye Norman was born on September 15, 1945 in Augusta, Georgia in the United States of America. Her father, Silas Norman, was an insurance salesman and her mother, Janie King-Norman, was a school teacher who also played piano. Janie King-Norman insisted that her five children (including Jessye Norman) began to take piano lessons at a young age. The family was quite musically inclined as their grandmother also played piano and their father was a soloist at their church. 

She began to sing at a young age. She exposed herself to the world of opera by listening to the Metropolitan Opera every weekend when her mother would make her do chores. She also sang at school and in her church choir.

She used to look up to singers like Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price. She also listened to artists like Billie Holliday and Dinah Washington. As she began to grow into her voice, she was encouraged to sing. She eventually participated in the Marian Anderson Vocal Competition that was located in Philadelphia at the age of 16. She did not win the competition but she was granted with a full scholarship to Howard University which is located in Washington, D.C.

While in college, she sang in the choir at her university and sang at the Lincoln Temple United Church as a soloist. She studied under the direction of Carolyn Grant.

Sigma Alpha Iota is an International Music Fraternity. This organization was formed to “uphold the highest standards of music” and to “further the development of music in America and throughout the world”. In 1965, Jessye Norman became a founding member of the Delta Nu chapter of Sigma Alpha Iota along with 33 other female students at Howard University.

She graduated Cum Laude from Howard University in 1967 with a degree in music. She was accepted into the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Maryland. She earned her master’s degree at the University of Michigan under the directon of Elizabeth Mannion and Pierre Bernac.



Her Career

In the same year that Norman graduated she also won the female vocal division of the International Competition of the German Broadcasting Corporation that is located in Munich, Germany. The following year she made her first appearance on a big stage in Richard Wagner’s Tannhauser playing the role of Elizabeth. She performed this with the Deutsche Oper Berlin. In 1970, she blossmed in Italy by partcipating in Handel’s Deborah. In 1971, she aquired the role Sélika in Meyerbeer’s L’ Africaine. This role took place at the Maggio Musicale in Florence. That same year she also participated in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro as Countess Almaviva in the Berlin Festival. She also recorded this same role with the BBC Orchestra. In 1972, she made another appearance in Milan, Italy in a production of Guiseppe Verdi’s Aida as Aida. She also did this in the United States at the Hollywood Bowl. She then aquired the role of Cassandra in Les Troyens by Hector Berlioz.



For the next few years, she apppeared in many performacnes and recitals across the world. In 1975, she moved to London. She had no opera performances for five years after this time. In 1980 in the month of October, Jessye Norman concluded her hiatus to return to the operatic stage as the lead in Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxus in Germany at the Hamburg State Opera. In 1983, Jessye Norman finally graced the New York Metropolitan Opera Stage with her presence. This occured during its 100th anniversary season. She sang as Cassandra and Dido in Les Troynes.



During her early days, critics say her as having “the greatest voice since the German soprano Lotte Lehmann”. Then, they described her talent as a “force of nature”. She is able to sing soprano, mezzo-soprano, and a bit of the contralto range. She also fluently speaks English, German, French and Italian. She also is well versed in Spanish and can read Hungarian. Languages have been very important to her. She is able to perform the song better by knowing the languages. 



Now, she focuses on solely performing in recitals and concerts. She also puts gerat focus into her school for the arts. 

The Jessye Norman School for the Arts

The Jessye Norman School for the Arts is located in Augusta, Georgia. This is Jessye Norman’s place of origin. It is a tuition-free arts education program focusing on students in middle school who are underpriviledged. This is her current focus as she continues to grow the program.


In the Fall of the year 2016, the Spelman and Morehouse College Glee Clubs joined together with another organization to put on a show where Jessye Norman also performed. Due to my lack of knowledge, I was not able to enjoy the performance as much as I would have had it happened in the current place as I am currently. I didn’t realize how important Jessye Norman was and how much of an honor it was to be in the same atmosphere as her and didn’t pay for anything. Jessye Norman is such an inspiration to black women. With her incredible voice and tenacity to achieve, she sets an example to modern classical singers as one to look up to just as she looked up to Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price. I personally believe her voice is a force to be reckoned with and it’s something I personally aspire to achieve vocally.

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