Fans Remember Jessye Norman, A Giant In The World of Opera
It’s rare that a voice makes such a statement on the world, but that’s what everyone agreed upon when the news broke that soprano vocalist, Jessye Norman, had died on Sep. 30 at 74 years old of multiple organ failure and septic shock due to complications from a spinal cord injury.
This week, opera connoisseurs have been mourning her passing. Ralph Eubanks, a writer for CNN and fan of Norman, said she “blended the structure of her operatic performance with the improvisational style of the spiritual.”
The mention of her blackness is important, as Eubanks goes on to say Norman was “shaped in the world of Jim Crow Georgia in the 1940s,” and that she “understood what it felt like to be excluded, which affected her approach to performance.”
“On stage, [she] used the power of blackness as a bridge to those who might see her art as something they need not engage with,” Eubanks said. “It’s something she makes clear in her 2014 memoir, ‘Stand Up Straight and Sing!’ Each chapter begins with a line from a spiritual and closes with a reference to classical opera, an acknowledgment of how she sought to bridge her modest origins — as well as her memory of singing in church — with her standing in the opera world.”
She was an icon that navigated both the world of blackness and opera fearlessly.
The Los Angeles Times made a point to tell the story of when Norman and a close friend attended an opera performance in Amsterdam and came across police attacking a black man on the street.
According to an eye witness, Norman asked what was going on and the police told her to mind her business. The story continues: “We went to the police station with the man and waited all night long. She refused to leave until they released him.”
Her sense of justice seemed engrained in her person as she sought to emulate the likes of “Henry Louis Gates Jr., Gloria Steinem and Maya Angelou, people whose life work is to deal with chaos,” said Rachel Worby, the artistic director of the Pasadena ensemble Muse/ique. She was also Norman’s opera conductor on tours and projects for 15 years.
Worby also summed up Norman’s person in a quote that Norman said during a commencement speech that summed up her attitude toward art and society.
She has an amphitheater named after her in Augusta, Georgia, called The Jessye Norman Amphitheater and her name is also on a community and educational enrichment program, named the Jessye Norman School of the Arts, states The Atlanta-Journal Constitution.
The city of Augusta is also going ahead with plans to rename Eighth Street in her honor following the news of her death.