Jessye Norman | Biography


Jessye Norman
JESSYE NORMAN is “one of those once-in-a-generation singers who is not simply following in the footsteps of others, but is staking out her own niche in the history of singing.” This rich history continues to be made as she brings her sumptuous sound, her joy of singing and spontaneous passion to recital performances, operatic portrayals and appearances with symphony orchestras and chamber music collaborators to audiences around the world. The sheer size, power, and luster of her voice share equal acclaim with that of her thoughtful music-making, innovative programming of the classics, and fervent advocacy of contemporary music. Miss Norman’s innovative collaborations with artists on the cutting-edge in their fields, as Robert Wilson, Andre Heller, Bill T. Jones and Steve McQueen serve to add new dimensions and exciting new challenges to her work. Her recent performances of a staged version of Schubert’s WINTERREISE by Robert Wilson and the unique double-bill of ERWARTUNG of Schoenberg and LA VOIX HUMAINE of Poulenc staged by André Heller, allow Miss Norman to continue the singular expansion and deepening of her artistic vision.
The integrity and depth of Jessye Norman’s performances are often characterized as in a NEW YORK TIMES article, which stated,: “This is an amazing voice, a catalogue of all that is virtuous in singing.” “The immensity of her voice struck like a thunderbolt…It was like an eruption of primal power.” THE JERUSALEM POST.
In September of 2003, the Jessye Norman School of the Arts in her hometown of Augusta, Georgia opened its doors to talented middle school students for studies in music performance, drama, dance and art. The students attend this after-school program tuition-free. A fellowship and master class series in her name established recently at the University of Michigan School of Music further attest to Miss Norman’s encouragement and support of emerging talent.
Miss Norman is the recipient of many awards and honors. In December of 1997, she was invested with the United States highest award in the performing arts, the Kennedy Center Honor, making history as the youngest recipient in the Honors’ twenty-year existence. Her many other prestigious distinctions include honorary doctorates at some thirty colleges, universities and conservatories around the world. In 1984 the French government bestowed upon Miss Norman the title Commandeur de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and the National Museum of Natural History in Paris named an orchid for her. In October 1989 she was awarded the Legion d’Honneur by French President Mitterand, and in June 1990 she was named Honorary Ambassador to the United Nations by U.N. Secretary Xavier Perez de Cuellar. Miss Norman was awarded the Radcliff Medal in June of 1997. In the autumn of 2000, Miss Norman was honored with the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal in recognition of her humanitarian and civic contributions. In Augusta, Georgia, her hometown, the Amphitheatre and Plaza overlooking the tranquil Savannah River have been named for her. Miss Norman’s distinguished catalogue of recordings has won numerous awards, including France’s Grand Prix National du Disque for albums of lieder by Wagner, Schumann, Mahler and Schubert; London’s prestigious Gramophone Award for her outstanding interpretation of Strauss’ “Four Last Songs”; Amsterdam’s Edison Prize; and recording honors in Belgium, Spain and Germany. In the United States, her Grammy Award winning recordings include “Songs of Maurice Ravel,” and Wagner’s Lohengrin and Die Walküre. Bluebeard’s Castle with Pierre Boulez and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra received the Grammy Award for best opera in February 1999. She was the winner of an “Ace” Award from the National Academy of Cable Programming for “Jessye Norman at Notre Dame”, as seen on the Arts and Entertainment Television Network in the United States. In January of 2000, Jessye Norman released her first jazz CD to wide acclaim…I Was Born In Love With You, music of Michel Legrand, with Mr. Legrand at the piano, bassist Ron Carter and percussionist Grady Tate. In addition to her busy performance schedule, Miss Norman serves on the Boards of Directors for The New York Public Library, the New York Botanical Garden, Citymeals-on-Wheels in New York City, The Dance Theatre of Harlem, and Howard University. Miss Norman is a member of the board as well as National spokesperson for the Lupus Foundation, and national spokesperson for The Partnership for the Homeless. And in her hometown of Augusta, Georgia, she serves on the Board of Trustees of Paine College and The Augusta Opera Association. A relentless Girl Scout cookie seller, she is a lifetime member of the Girl Scouts of America. In 2004, Miss Norman was presented in performance in Thailand, Spain, France, Austria, and in Japan, where she appeared in a reprise of her unique opera double-bill of Schoenberg’s Erwatung and Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine. In the U.S., Miss Norman’s performances included Washington, Cleveland, and New York. In November of 2004, the documentary of Miss Norman’s life and work to date, was completed. This film, directed by Andre Heller, with Othmar Schmiderer as director of photography and produced by DOR-FILM of Vienna, chronicles the music, the social and political issues, the inspiration and dreams that combine to make this singer unique in her profession. In 2005, Miss Norman performed in recital in the United States, including performances at Royce Hall at University of California in Los Angeles and the Concert Hall of Tampa, Florida. In Europe, her performances included an orchestral concert of the music of Purcell, Saint-Saens and Bizet at the Schleswig Holstein Festival of northern Germany. She also gave a jazz concert at this festival of the music of Bernstein, Gershwin and Ellington. These concerts were followed by a series of Master Classes at the Music Academy of Villecroze in the South of France with six outstanding young sopranos. Miss Norman also performed with the Prague Chamber Orchestra for a gala event in Europe’s largest castle, the Castle of Prague, in the Czech Republic. Miss Norman’s 2006 spring recital tour of Europe, included performances in: Vienna, Berlin, Hamburg, Dusseldorf, Munich, Frankfurt, Lucerne and Budapest. In Germany, Miss Norman was also a guest on the widely-viewed television variety show, WETTEN DASS. Her performances at The Theatre du Chatelet in Paris in June consisted of Bartok’s BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE under the direction of Pierre Boulez, with the Orchestre de Paris as well as “Les Nuits d’ete of Berlioz and Purcell’s DIDO and AENEAS on the same evenings, conducted by Marc Minkowski with the Orchestre de Louvre. In the summer of 2006, Miss Norman collaborated in a program of the music of Duke Ellington at the Vail, Colorado International Dance Festival with the Trey McIntyre Dance Company: THE DIVA, THE DUKE and the DANCE. with Miss Norman bringing her special interpretations of the great songs of Duke Ellington with choreography by Trey McIntyre. Further performances of the music of Duke Ellington in the summer took place at the Menuhin Festival in Gstaad and the Peralada Festival in Spain, with programs entitled, THE DIVA and THE DUKE. In May 2006, Miss Norman was awarded the Edison Prize in Amsterdam for her outstanding contribution to recorded classical music, which includes some seventy-five CD’s of her eclectic repertoire. In the autumn, Miss Norman’s tour in Asia included her first performances in Mainland China, where she presented orchestral concerts in Shanghai and Beijing. In Beijing Miss Norman was honored by being made an honorary professor of The Central Music Conservatory of Beijing. In February of 2006, Jessye Norman became only the fourth opera/classical music singer in the forty-eight year history of the GRAMMY AWARDS Celebration, to be presented THE LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD for Classical Music. Creating her own place in this legendary list of awardees, Miss Norman joins the illustrious company of Enrico Caruso, Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price. In 2007, Miss Norman will be heard in performance in France, Spain, Germany and the United States, in her wide-ranging repertoire including a recital entitled, LES VOIX FRANCAISES, a recital program in French, her homage to the great tradition of music of France and her own very special place in the hearts of music enthusiasts in this country that she has referred to often as her second country.