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Opera Icon Jessye Norman

Opera legend Jessye Norman and her new memoir of growing up black in the segregated South and taking the world stage with her song.

Jessye Norman performs during The Dream Concert at Radio City Music Hall Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2007 in New York. (AP)

Jessye Norman performs during The Dream Concert at Radio City Music Hall Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2007 in New York. (AP)

Opera great Jessye Norman grew up African American in Augusta, Georgia in the days of full-on Jim Crow segregation.  And soared to the greatest heights of the opera world.  Wagner, Verdi, Bizet, Strauss.  The great halls of Europe and America and beyond.  Sung for presidents and royalty, and for the people who raised her up.  Inspired her.  Marian Anderson.  Rosa Parks.  Maya Angelou.  Duke Ellington.  This hour On Point:  a conversation with the great Jessye Norman on art, voice, and life.

– Tom Ashbrook


Jessye Norman, Grammy-, Kennedy Center – and National Medal the of the Arts-Award winning opera singer. Author of the new book, “Stand Up Straight and Sing!”

From Tom’s Reading List

NPR: The ‘Marvelous Living’ Of Soprano Jessye Norman — “When it comes to singers, there have been few voices considered as majestic as soprano Jessye Norman’s. The celebrated opera singer from Augusta, Ga. has meticulously built a career on her own terms, choosing her projects intelligently and carefully guarding her vocal resources, which have often been described as a force of nature.”

The Wall Street Journal: Book Review: ‘Stand Up Straight and Sing!’ by Jessye Norman & ‘Lifting My Voice’ by Barbara Hendricks — ” The best parts of Ms. Norman’s book are her lyrical evocations of her early life in Augusta, Ga. She builds a rich portrait of a childhood firmly grounded by family, church and community. Loving but demanding parents and a large extended family supplied both nurturing (the description of the bounty of her grandparents’ farm is positively edenic) and high expectations.”

Chicago Sun-Times: Jessye Norman finds her literary voice — “Famed opera singer Jessye Norman was approached in recent years about being featured in two potential books — a coffee-table tome with slick photographs of her career highlights and another with notables paying tribute to her. She was underwhelmed by the first idea, and the second she found ‘too embarrassing.’”

Read An Excerpt From “Stand Up Straight And Sing” By Jessye Norman


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  • OnPointComments

    The modesty of Jessye Norman prevents her from bragging about her philanthropic efforts.

    The Jessye Norman School of the Arts in Augusta, Georgia provides talented and interested youth, most of whom are economically disadvantaged, with a broad-ranged, professional-quality fine arts education. The school has operated for over 10 years, and would not have been possible without the personal financial generosity of Ms. Norman, her exemplary fund raising efforts, and her willingness to take time from her schedule and make herself available for the school. She has made a tremendous impact on the hundreds of students who have attended the school.

    I am fortunate to have met Ms. Norman, to have experienced her extraordinary talent, and to have personally seen what a compassionate and kind person she is.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    I prefer singers to stick to music; authors to stick to literature/non-fiction. The world works so much better that way.

  • J A Shepherd

    Beauty beyond measure.

  • Robert Wilson

    The Majesty of Jessye Norman, A voice that can only be described as “God-Given”.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    Parsifal and Peter Grimes are my 2 favorite operas: one traditional, one modern. I don’t suppose Ms. Norman has performed in either of those.

    • OnPointComments

      Jessye Norman performed Parsifal at the Met in NY with Placido Domingo in 1991. I don’t know if she has performed Peter Grimes.

  • Jo Bleaux

    Thank you! What a beautiful way to start the day.

  • http://www.twitter.com/michaelbix michaelbix

    I had the distinct good luck to view a (Live at the Met, I suspect) video operatic performance which included closeups of Ms. Norman as she sang. As a non-operatic singer I was drawn into closely observing her face, throat, stability and breathing as she sang in her full, sonorous manner… and was thrilled at her seemingly effortless capability. To my even greater surprise what I absorbed through that privileged view (of her technique) was a direct, physical understanding of something fundamental to singing which I had not grasped before her demonstration. Afterward I was able to whole-heartedly express notes almost a half-octave lower than my previous range. I am indebted to Ms. Norman for this extremely valuable lesson in singing. She is a great asset for all of us, and music. Thank you.

  • Vic Volpe

    Jessye Norman — Samson and Dalila_ “Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix” [She hits it out of the ballpark. If you can find a better performance of this piece, post it.]


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