The Legendary American Singer Jessye Norman Died at Age 74

American soprano Jessye Norman performs at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on October 3, 2002

The soprano, Jessye Norman, with a voice both dark and majestic died of sepsis. We owe her a super interpretation of the Marseillaise in 1989.

The American singer Jessye Norman, the soprano whose voice both dark and majestic had conquered audiences around the world, died Monday 30th September 2019 in New York at age 74, following sepsis.

“It is with great sadness that we announce the death of the international star of the opera Jessye Norman,” said her family in a statement sent by a spokeswoman.

« Inspiration »

“We are so proud of her musical achievements and the inspiration she has been to audiences around the world, who will continue to be a source of joy,” she added.

The singer who became an icon, who had marked the spirits in France singing “La Marseillaise” in 1989 for the bicentenary of the revolution, died of sepsis following the complications of a spinal injury suffered in 2015, according to the communicated.

Tributes began pouring in on Monday night.

“The Met mourns Jessye Norman, one of the greatest sopranos of the last 50 years,” said the New York Opera, where she performed more than 80 times, in a repertoire ranging from Wagner to Poulenc, passing by Bartok, Schönberg and Strauss.

“She was one of the greatest artists to sing on our stage,” said Met Peter Gelb’s director. “His memory will live forever.”

Young Black in a white medium

Born September 15, 1945, in Augusta, in a state of Georgia then segregated, Jessye Norman, from a family of five children, initiates the music by the church, singing the traditional “spirituals”.

Growing up, she began to listen to radio operas, including those of the prestigious Metropolitan Opera, where she would become a star herself.

“I do not remember a moment in my life where I was not trying to sing,” she said in 2014 on American radio NPR, after winning five Grammys, one of which was awarded for her entire career in 2006.

A young black woman in a mostly white classical music milieu, she won a scholarship to study music at Howard University, a historically black institution in Washington.

Superb interpretation of the Marseillaise

Engaged since 1968 – she was only 23 years old – at the Berlin Deutsche Oper, she started in France five years later, in Verdi’s “Aïda”.

Invitations follow at the Aix-en-Provence Festival (“Hippolyte et Aricie” by Rameau in 1983, “Ariane à Naxos” by Richard Strauss in 1985), the Opéra-Comique (1984) and the Châtelet (1983, and regularly since 2000). We owe her beside a superb interpretation of the Marseillaise for the 200 years of the taking of the Bastille.

She moved to Europe where, with her dark and pulpy timbre, she established herself as one of the most recognized dramatic sopranos, especially for her interpretations of Wagner.

“The beauty and power, the singularity of the voice of Jessye Norman: I do not remember anything like it,” declared in 2014 the Nobel Prize for Literature Toni Morrison, who died herself last August, during an evening of homage to Jessye Norman.

“It heals my soul”

“I must say that sometimes when I hear your voice, it breaks my heart. But every time, when I hear your voice, it heals my soul, “the writer continued.

Jessye Norman was also a woman of conviction, socially engaged, especially for artists from disadvantaged backgrounds. In particular, she had founded the Jessye Norman School of the Arts in her hometown of Augusta, free for the most penniless.

If she had sung at the inauguration ceremonies of US presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, or for the 60th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II, in 1986, before receiving the National Medal of the Arts from President Barack Obama’s hands in 2009, the singer had retired from the scene in recent years.

Most of his recent interviews date back to 2014, the year of the publication of his memoirs, “Stand Up Straight and Sing! “.

She described in detail the women who had marked her, and the racism she had faced, as a child and then as an adult.

Her love life was a mystery. When the Telegraph was questioning her about a passage in her memoirs where she mentioned a marriage proposal that a French aristocrat would have made her one day, she described the episode as “fascinating”, without revealing anything.

“The French have always supported me a lot, let’s stay there,” she said with a laugh.

Draped in the French flag, the American singer Jessye Norman performs La Marseillaise, on the Place de la Concorde in Paris, on July 14, 1989, during the parade "La Marseillaise" on the occasion of the commemoration of the bicentenary of the French Revolution .
Draped in the French flag, the American singer Jessye Norman performs La Marseillaise, on the Place de la Concorde in Paris, on July 14, 1989, during the parade “La Marseillaise” on the occasion of the commemoration of the bicentenary of the French Revolution . (© AFP / JOEL ROBINE)

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