Norman Jessye, singer
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 collaborations with artists on the cutting-edge in their fields, as Robert Wilson, Andre Heller, Bill T. Jones, Steve McQueen and Laura Karpman 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, these two one-person operas never before performed by one singer on a single evening, 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.
The Jessye Norman School of the Arts in her hometown of Augusta, Georgia now entering its fifth academic year, serves as a platform and unique study facility for talented middle school students in music performance, writing, drama, dance and graphic art. The students attend this after-school program tuition-free. (jessyenormanschool.org)
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-five colleges, universities and conservatories around the world, the most recent being the Doctor of Fine Arts honoris causa from the University of North Carolina in May of 2008.
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 the music of 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,” Wagner’s Lohengrin and Die Walkure. Duke 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 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 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 of 2006, 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 awarded an honorary professorship at The Central Music Conservatory of Beijing.
In early 2007, Miss Norman’s European performances included a recital in Paris at The Salle Pleyel entitled Les Voix Francaises, her homage to the great tradition of music in this country and her special place in the hearts of French music enthusiasts. She was presented in the opening performance of the Celebration of Women in the Arts in Barcelona at the Palau de la Musica and in recital for the closing performance of The Festival of Classical Music in The Hague.
Also in 2007, Jessye Norman was elected as a fellow of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences at a ceremony at Sanders Theatre at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was made a ‘living landmark’ of New York City by the Landmarks Conservancy, and was awarded the Nelson A. Rockefeller Award for the Arts by the State University of New York at Purchase College.
In 2008, Miss Norman presented recitals in Germany and France with the theme: The Five Seasons – Summer, Winter, Spring, Fall and the eternal season of Love! She brought this theme again in recitals at Carnegie Hall and Royce Hall of the University of California in May.
Jessye Norman opened the World Festival of Sacred Music in Fez, Morocco and The Festival of the Arts in Ohrid, Macedonia during the summer. She offered recitals in the autumn in Spain, Austria and Poland, with orchestral concerts in France and Spain. Miss Norman's jazz program, 'The Duke and the Diva', was performed as the opening of the performing arts series for the season 2008-2009 for the University of Maryland. ‘The Duke and the Diva’ was also presented at the Echternach Festival of Luxembourg.
In November, Miss Norman was awarded the highest civilian honor
for Austria, The Medal of Arts and Letters, first class, by President Heinz Fisher at the Hapsburg Palace in Vienna. President Fisher noted her longstanding artistic relationship with Austria, citing her many performances all over the country as well as her twenty-five years of performances at the Salzburg Festival.
HONOR!, a three week long festival celebrating the African American contribution to the legacy of Carnegie Hall and to the cultural mosaic of the world, took place in March of 2009. This unique series of performances, exhibitions and discussions was sponsored by Carnegie Hall, directed and curated by Jessye Norman.
Miss Norman was awarded the Centennial Medal of the American Academy in Rome, for her artistic and humanitarian accomplishments in April of this year and the Frederick Douglas Medal by the New York
Urban League in May, recognizing her continuing professional expansion and accomplishment along with her exemplary attention to civic
Miss Norman’s spring/summer 2009 schedule included a European tour that visited Paris and Moscow as well as wonderfully received presentations of her Roots: My Life, My Song program in Berlin, Cologne, Frankfurt and Munich. In the United States, her summer schedule included Miss Norman’s narration of Copland’s Linclon Portrait with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as part of the 200th Anniversary Celebration of Abraham Lincoln at The Ravinia Festival and an overwhelmingly successful presentation of Ask Your Mama, a new work on Langston Hughes’ epic poem with music by Laura Karpman for the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. In September, Miss Norman traveled to Seoul, South Korea, where she presented a program of European and American composers that highlighted some of the world’s best-known and loved songs and arias.
Jessye Norman has been awarded the 2009 New York City Handel Medallion, the city’s highest award for achievement in the arts. Mayor Michael Bloomberg presented Miss Norman with the medallion at a ceremony held at the newly-opened Frank Sinatra School of the Arts on October 6th.
The event featured live performances by the stunning Dance Theater of Harlem and a major tribute to Miss Norman by jazz great, Dee Dee Bridgewater. The Frank Sinatra School of the Arts musical ensemble performed excerpts from the musical Bye, Bye Birdie, the Cajun cellist Sean Grissom and Picaso, Jr. from the Big Apple Circus also represented exciting performances. The Mayor was joined on stage by the Cultural Affairs Commissioner, Kate D. Levin and the chair of the Cultural Commission, Agnus Gunn.
2009 will come to a close with the release of Miss Norman’s CD – Roots: My Life, My Song on October 31 in Germany, to be followed by a five-city tour later this autumn.
Miss Norman begins the new decade with a season that spans much of the globe. In January 2010 she will open the year with the inaugural concert of the Festival of the State of Sonora in Mexico with her acclaimed American Masters program which she will also offer as a special Valentine’s Day concert for her friends at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.
Further highlights of the year see Miss Norman appearing in Israel at the foot of Mt. Masada in concert with the Israel Opera Orchestra featuring many of her signature operatic and American repertoire highlights.
She then returns to Europe for a whirlwind of summer jazz festivals reprising her critically acclaimed Roots: My Life My Song program in Vienna, Paris, Montreux and Basel.
The autumn begins with the Gala opening of the San Francisco Symphony season with Michael Tilson Thomas and the inaugural concert of the newly renovated Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City followed by concerts in South America, Asia and Canada.
In addition to her busy performance schedule, Miss Norman serves on the board of directors for The New York Public Library and she is a member of the Board of Governors for the New York Botanical Garden. She is also serves on the boards of Carnegie Hall, The Dance Theatre of Harlem, Howard University, the Lupus Foundation, Paine College, and The Augusta Opera Association. She is national spokesperson for The Lupus Foundation and The Partnership for the Homeless. An enthusiastic Girl Scout cookie seller, she is a lifetime member of the Girl Scouts of America.