US opera singer Jessye Norman, one of the most renowned sopranos of the 20th century, has died at the age of 74. She passed away in New York’s Mount Sinai St Luke’s Hospital of septic shock and multiple organ failure related to complications from a spinal cord injury in 2015, her family said in a statement.
Born in Augusta, Georgia, in 15 September 1945, Norman was a trailblazing performer. She was one of the rare Black singers to attain worldwide stardom in the opera world. She made her operatic debut in 1969 in Berlin, establishing herself in Europe during the 1970s. Norman made her New York debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1983. She went on to sing more than 80 roles with the company, which described her as “one of the great sopranos of the past half century”.
“Jessye Norman was one of the greatest artists to ever sing on our stage,” the Met’s General Manager Peter Gelb commented on the company’s website. “Her legacy shall forever live on.”
A dramatic soprano, Norman was celebrated across the international opera world. She performed for Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and the Queen. Her many awards include a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006, a National Medal of Arts in 2009 and France’s Legion d’Honneur. In 1997, at the age of 52, she became the youngest person to earn the Kennedy Center Honor in the organisation’s 20-year history.
“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,” the family statement read.
“We are equally proud of her humanitarian endeavors addressing matters such as hunger, homelessness, youth development and arts and culture education.”
Jessye Norman at the Glimmerglass Opera Festival in Cooperstown, New York, in 2014 (Stilfehler via Wikimedia Commons).