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Jessye Norman - Soprano

"One needs more than ambition and talent to make a success of anything, really. There must be love and a vocation."

Celebrating African Americans in Opera

Jessye Norman was an American opera singer, regarded as one of the greatest sopranos of the 20th century. She was born on September 15, 1945 in Augusta, Georgia, and died on September 30, 2019. Norman was known for her powerful and distinctive voice, and for her performances of works by Mozart, Wagner, Verdi, and other composers. Throughout her career, she won numerous awards and honors, including the Kennedy Center Honors and the National Medal of Arts.

.Like many American opera singers of her generation, Norman began her career in Europe, specifically Berlin's Deutsche Oper, where she made her debut in 1969 singing Wagner. With a large, attractive voice, she was offered roles she knew she was too young to sing — so she decided to take a self-imposed hiatus.

"I needed to go away from the opera house to allow my voice to mature. I wanted to save myself. I wanted to do this for the long term. I knew that already at 24," she said. In her time off, she honed her skills as a recitalist. She sang German and French songs, and always included spirituals.

Norman, who was born Sept. 15, 1945, in Augusta, Ga., grew up in the Jim Crow South and knew racism. She helped integrate local stores, sitting at white-only lunch counters. "We ordered food, daring the staff not to serve us," she wrote in her 2014 memoir, Stand Up Straight and Sing! Eleven years earlier, she founded the Jessye Norman School for the Arts in her hometown,

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