Happy birthday Jessye Norman!


Jessye Norman (born September 15, 1945) is an American operatic soprano singer. She is most closely associated with Wagner's works, but is a major advocate of contemporary opera and music.



Norman was born in Augusta, Georgia to Silas Norman and Janie King-Norman. Her family was full of musicians; her mother and grandmother were pianists and her father was a singer in a local choir. As a child, Norman sang in the gospel choir at Mount Calvary Baptist Church. After entering the Marian Anderson Vocal Competition in Philadelphia, she was offered a scholarship to Howard University in Washington, D.C.


While at Howard, Norman was a soloist in the campus chorus and also a paid soloist at Lincoln Temple United Church of Christ. After Howard, she went on to study at the graduate level at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and later at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Image source)

Once she had completed her studies, she moved to Europe. She won the ARD International Music Competition in Munich, leading to a three-year contract with Deutsche Oper Berlin. She made her operatic debut that same year, appearing as Elisabeth in Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser. By 1971, she appeared in the title role in L'Africaine at Florence's Maggio Musicale:



Following that, she performed Aida at Milan's La Scala and Cassandra in Les Troyens at London's Covent Garden. She went on to perform in some of Europe's biggest festivals, including Edinburgh Festival, Salzburg Festival, Aix-en-Provence Festival, and the Stuttgart Opera, before returning to the United States.




In 1982, she made her debut in the United States. She performed the roles of Jocasta in Oedipus rex and Purcell's Dido on a double bill with the Opera Company of Philadelphia.


She went on to appear in dozens of Metropolitan Opera performances, the most notable of which was Janacek's The Makropulos Case in 1996.

Norman has always been adventurous with the kinds of work she takes on. One of her better-known unique interpretations was of Strauss's Four Last Songs.


Some of her honors include being awarded the Legion d'Honneur by French President Mitterand in 1989 and named Honorary Ambassador to the United Nations by U.N. Secretary Xavier Perez de Cueller in 1990.

In 2003, Norman came together with Rachel Longstreet Foundation to open the Jessye Norman School of the Arts, a tuition-free performing arts after-school program in Norman's hometown for economically disadvantaged students.


Selected works





Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Monday, 15 September 2014
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