Jessye Norman
(c) Jessye Norman School of the Arts

American soprano Jessye Norman died Monday, aged 74. She suffered from health problems following a 2015 spinal cord injury, her family announced.“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,” Norman’s family said in a statement released by their spokesperson, Gwendolyn Quinn. “We are equally proud of her humanitarian endeavors addressing matters such as hunger, homelessness, youth development, and arts and culture education.”

Born on Sept. 15, 1945, in Augusta, Ga., to a family with a strong love for music, Norman listened to opera on the radio as a child, making her first attempt at singing it before an audience when she was in middle school.

At age 16, Norman entered the Marian Anderson Vocal Competition in Philadelphia which, although she did not win, led to an offer of a full scholarship at Howard University. After graduating in 1967, she began graduate studies at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and later at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance in Ann Arbor, from which she earned a master’s degree in 1968.

After graduating, Norman moved to Europe. In 1969 she won the ARD International Music Competition in Munich and landed a three-year contract with the Deutsche Oper Berlin. She made her operatic début that same year as Elisabeth in Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser.

In her long career she performed at all major opera houses in the world and became one of the greatest ever Lied singers. She won five Grammys.

The Jessye Norman School for the Arts in her hometown of Augusta, Georgia is a tuition-free arts education program for talented middle-school students otherwise unable to experience private arts tutoring.

New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, where she sang more than 80 performances, paid tribute, calling her “one of the great sopranos of the past half-century.”

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