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Jessye Norman (born September 15, 1945) is an American opera singer. Norman is one of the most admired contemporary opera singers and recitalists, and one of the highest paid performers in classical music. A true dramatic soprano with a majestic stage presence, Norman is associated in particular with the roles of Aïda, Cassandre, Alceste, and Leonora in Fidelio. Norman has been given the nickname 'Just Enormous' for her powerful voice and range.
Norman was born in Augusta, Georgia in a family of amateur musicians; her mother a pianist, her father a singer in a local choir. She attended Charles T. Walker Elementary School, A.R. Johnson Junior High School, and Lucy C. Laney Senior High School, all in downtown Augusta.
Norman received a scholarship to Howard University, graduating in 1967 with a degree in music, and from the University of Michigan with a Masters Degree in 1968. The following year, she won the ARD International Music Competition in Munich. She made her operatic debut in 1969 as Elisabeth in Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser at the Berlin State Opera, and in subsequent years performed with various German and Italian opera companies. She returned to the US to make her professional concert debut at Lincoln Center in 1973.
Norman made her debut in 1983 at the Metropolitan Opera in Berlioz's Les Troyens in a production which marked the company's 100th anniversary season.
In the mid 1980's, Norman was involved in a major and much publicized legal dispute with a record company.
Norman is frequently called on to perform at public events and ceremonies. These have included the 1985 and 1997 U.S. presidential inaugurations, the sixtieth birthday celebration of Queen Elizabeth II, and, perhaps most memorably, the observation of the bicentennial of the French Revolution in Paris's Place de la Concorde, at which she sang La Marseillaise as part of an elaborate pageant orchestrated by avant-garde designer Jean-Paul Goude.
In addition to her operatic performances, Norman gives regular recitals, singing arias, Lieder, and spirituals, and collaborates with other artists: Norman premiered the song cycle woman.life.song by composer Judith Weir, a work commissioned for her by Carnegie Hall, with texts by Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou and Clarissa Pinkola Estés; performed a selection of sacred music of Duke Ellington; recorded a jazz album, Jessye Norman Sings Michel Legrand; and was the soprano co-lead in Vangelis' project Mythodea.
The singer's public manner combines an apparent hauteur with flashes of disarming humor, putting her squarely in the venerable operatic tradition of the Diva, to the extent that many credit her as the inspiration for the title character in the 1981 French film Diva.
Her hometown, Augusta, Georgia, dedicated a riverfront amphitheater named in her honor in the early 1990s. Since the early 1990s Norman has lived in Croton on Hudson, NY in a secluded estate known as The White Gates which she purchased from television personality Allen Funt.
On September 22nd, in Pasadena, California, after giving a performance at Blair IB Magnet High School, Pasadena's mayor declared that day "Jessye Norman Day" in Pasadena.
Norman received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.
In the 2002 film The Hours, Meryl Streep's character is listening to Jessye Norman's rendition of "Beim Schlafengehen" (Going to Sleep) from Richard Strauss's Vier Letzte Lieder (Last Four Songs).
On the album An Evening With Jessye Norman, she sings Beau Soir. She can sing and speak in the languages of French, Italian, and German.