The vocal phenomenon that is Jessye Norman has long been acknowledged as possessing one of the world’s most beautiful voices. The sheer size, power, and luster of her voice share equal acclaim with that for her thoughtful, provocative music-making, prompting one writer to observe that "her vocal phrasing moves beyond mere seamlessness to convey a more ardent, spontaneous passion." Often cited for her innovative programming and fervent advocacy of contemporary music, she has earned the recognition of another writer who describes her as "one of those once –in-a-generation singers who isn’t 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 and spontaneous passion to recital performances, operatic portrayals, and appearances with symphony orchestras and chamber music collaborators, to the delight of listeners worldwide. Miss Norman’s 1998-99 performances included a recital at Carnegie Hall in New York City, which had an unusual program incorporating sacred music of Duke Ellington, scored for jazz combo, string quartet and piano, and featuring the Alvin Ailey Repertory dance Ensemble. Other performances during the season included "Das Leid von der Erde," with Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, a television special for Christmas filmed in Miss Norman’s hometown of Augusta, Georgia, as well as a spring recital tour, which included performances in Tel Aviv. The following season also brought performances of the sacred music of Duke Ellington to London and Vienna, together with a summer European tour, which included performances at the Salzburg Festival.
Jessye Norman sings a widely varied operatic repertoire, having appeared at La Scala, Milan; the Teatro Communale, Florence; the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; the Stuttgart Opera, Vienna, and Hamburg State Operas; Opera Company of Philadelphia; The Lyric Opera of Chicago; Aix-en-Provence Festival; and the Salzburg Festival. Numerous operatic appearances at the Metropolitan Opera followed her debut there in Les Troyens of Berlioz, which opened the company’s 100th anniversary season in 1983. The most recent of these was her celebrated portrayal of the title character in the Met’s premier production of Janacek’s The Makropulos Case in 1996. In December of 1997, she was invested with the United States’ highest award in the performing arts, the Kennedy Center Honro, making history as the youngest recipient in the Honors’ 20-year existence.
Her many other prestigious awards and distinctions include honorary doctorates at the some thirty colleges, universities and conservatories around the world. 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 Cueller.
Miss Norman’s distinguished catalogue of recordings has won numerous awards, including France’s "Grand Prix National du Disque" for albums of lieder by 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 recording includes "Songs of Maurice Ravel," and Wagner’s Lohengrin and Die Walkure. She was winner of an "Ace" Award from the National Academy of Cable Programming for "Jessye Norman at Notre Dame." Recordings released recently are "Das Lied von der Erde," with James Levine and The Berlin Philharmonic, and "Bluebeard’s Bastle," with Pierre Boulez and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which has received four Grammy nominations.
In addition to her busy performance schedule, Miss Norman serves on the Boards of Directors for The New York Public Library, the New York Botanical Garden, City-meals-on-Wheels in New York city, The Dance Theatre of Harlem. The National Music Foundation and The Elton John AIDS Foundation. Miss Norman is a member of the board as well as National spokesperson for the LUPUS Foundation and spokesperson for The Partnership for the Homeless. And in her hometown of Augusta, Georgia, she serves on the Board of Trustees of Paine College and The Augusta Opera Association. An enthusiastic Girl Scout cookie seller, she is a life time member of the Girl Scouts of America. Miss Norman resides in New York State.