Global Soprano Opera Legend Jessye Norman Dies at 74

By AAP
October 1, 2019 Updated: October 1, 2019

Jessye Norman, a heralded soprano opera singer who won four Grammy Awards and the National Medal of Arts in the United States, has died at the age of 74, her family says.

Norman died in New York on Monday morning from septic shock and multi-organ failure secondary to complications of a spinal cord injury she had sustained in 2015, according to the statement.

“We are so proud of Jessye’s musical achievements and the inspiration that she provided to audiences around the world that will continue to be a source of joy,” a statement from her family said.

“We are equally proud of her humanitarian endeavors addressing matters such as hunger, homelessness, youth development, and arts and culture education.”

Born in Augusta, Georgia, Norman was raised in a musical family: Her mother and grandmother were pianists, her father a singer, and she grew up singing in church.

Opera singer Jessye Norman
Opera singer Jessye Norman attends Cinema for Peace New York 2012 at The Harvard Club in New York City on Sept. 25, 2012. (Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

She was awarded a scholarship to Howard University in Washington, D.C. and studied voice there, progressing after graduation in 1967 to the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and the University of Michigan.

Norman made her operatic debut as Elisabeth in Richard Wagner’s Tannhauser in 1969 in Berlin and went on to multiple prominent roles, including the title role in “Aida” in productions in Berlin and Milan, the role of Cassandra in Hector Berlioz’s “Les Troyens,” and at the Metropolitan Opera in Arnold Schoenberg’s “Erwartung,” among many others.

Jessye Norman
Contemporary opera singer Jessye Norman sings during a ceremony honoring the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington on July 31, 2013. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

She performed the work of many composers throughout her career—including Schubert, Mahler, Wagner, Brahms, Satie and others—and by the 1980s was widely recognized as one of the leading sopranos in the world.

In 2002, she performed “America the Beautiful” at a service unveiling two columns of light at the site of the former World Trade Centre, honoring the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the following year partnered with the Rachel Longstreet Foundation to open the Jessye Norman School of the Arts for economically disadvantaged students in her hometown of Augusta.

In 2014, she published a memoir, “Stand Up Straight and Sing!”

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