Jessye Norman (1945–2019) was an American operatic soprano who won worldwide acclaim for both her operatic and concert performances. One of the great singers of the 20th century, she was celebrated for her interpretations of the works of Wagner, Schubert, and Mahler.
Born into a musical family in Augusta, Georgia, Norman won a scholarship to Howard University, Washington D.C., to study voice. She graduated in 1967 and received further training at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Maryland, and at the University of Michigan.
In 1968, Norman won the Bavarian Radio Corporation International Music Competition and, a year later, made her opera début in Wagner’s Tannhaüser in Berlin at age 24. Her decisive success led to a contract with the Berlin State Opera. She quickly gained a high reputation in Europe, where she was widely admired for her beauty of tone, breadth of register, her dynamic range, and her commanding stage presence.
Norman made her début at London’s Covent Garden and La Scala in 1972, appearing in New York for the first time in 1973. Her performances in the works of Wagner, Schubert, and Mahler increased her stature in the 1970s and 1980s. She made many notable recordings in association with the English conductor Colin Davis and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
Norman was made Commandeur, L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1984. She won five Grammy awards (1984, 1988, 1989, 1998, and 2006) and the national medal of arts. Her educational and outreach projects included the Jessye Norman School of the Arts in Georgia to provide free tuition for disadvantaged children.
Norman’s memoirs are Stand Up Straight and Sing! (2014.)
Problems arise in that one has to find a balance between what people need from you and what you need for yourself.