NEW YORK (AFP) – Superstar singer Jessye Norman, an American soprano who showcased her majestic yet intimate voice at opera houses and orchestras around the world, died Monday (Sept 30), her family said. She was 74 years old.
One of the contemporary era’s most revered opera singers, the Grammy-winner died “surrounded by loved ones” at a New York hospital due to septic shock and multi-organ failure, the result of complications from a spinal cord injury sustained in 2015, according to a statement obtained by AFP via a spokeswoman.
“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,” said her family.
Born Sept 15, 1945 in Augusta, Georgia, Norman grew up surrounded by music as one of five children in a family of amateur artists.
She made a foray into gospel at age four, and as a young girl began listening to radio broadcasts of performances at the Metropolitan Opera, where she would go on to star.
“I don’t remember a moment in my life when I wasn’t trying to sing,” she told NPR in 2014.
A pioneering young black woman in the white world of classical music, Norman quickly became beloved for her soaring voice and effervescent personality.
She studied music at the historically black college Howard University in Washington before going on to the Peabody Conservatory and the University of Michigan.
She established herself in Europe in the 1970s, making her operatic debut in Berlin in 1969 before wowing elsewhere on the continent including Italy. She eventually moved to London and spent years performing recital and solo work.
Norman became the youngest person in a two-decade history to earn a prestigious Kennedy Centre Honour at age 52 in 1997, and president Barack Obama bestowed her with a National Medal of Arts.
She has performed at two presidential inaugurations, the opening ceremonies of the Atlanta Summer Olympics in 1996, and at the Bicentennial of the French Revolution in Paris in 1989.
The superstar singer was also a Commander in France’s Order of Arts and Letters, and has an orchid named after her there.