Rep. John Lewis on Passing of a Star of the Operatic Stage, Jessye Norman
“America and the world have lost a great artistic talent—a gorgeous, elegant voice that was one of a kind. Jessye Norman did not grow up in a big city. She came of age in a musical family who lived in Augusta, a city in east Georgia considered off the beaten track to the world stage. She was trained as a young artist at Howard University, a historically black college, but she dared to be different. She followed her gift wherever it led, making her operatic debut in Berlin at the age of 24. Her journey and her achievement as a world-renowned soprano made her a soaring inspiration to all artists who aspired to greatness, but especially for young artists of color.
“Her extraordinary talent elevated her to the stages of the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, The Kennedy Center, and the finest venues around the world. She was awarded the highest honors in her field-- a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement. France named her a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters, and President Barack Obama honored her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Despite so many accolades, she never forgot her roots.
“She used her influence to serve others and address social concerns in ways that only she could. She spoke frankly about the tragic consequences of segregation and racial discrimination and how they crippled the potential of the field. She founded the Jessye Norman School of Arts in Augusta, offering free tuition for talented artists who might not be able to grow their abilities otherwise. She extended her hand to the homeless recognizing that beauty resides in all of us. She was just a wonderful, warm, friendly human being, a beautiful person to be around. She will be remembered by lovers of art around the world, but especially here in Georgia. “