AUGUSTA, Ga. — International opera star Jessye Norman never forgot her home in a small Southern U.S. city. And Augusta, Georgia, never forgot the woman who grew up among many musical influences to become one of the few black opera singers to gain worldwide acclaim.
Augusta is holding four days of memorials for Norman, one of the world’s greatest sopranos, who died on Monday, Sept. 30, 2019 at 74. Two days of visitation began Thursday. On Friday, the city renamed a street for her outside the Jessye Norman School of the Arts, which she opened in 2003 to provide free fine arts education to disadvantaged children.
Ellis Johnson, an arts benefactor in Augusta, was on hand for the street sign unveiling. He said he approached Norman more than a decade ago asking if she would support the school and notes she enthusiastically agreed. Johnson first met Norman when she was singing a hymn in church at 11 years old “accompanied by herself,” he said.
“She has been a beautiful, faithful supporter of this school since its beginning. She remains our inspiration in excellence in performance and integrity in all things,” Johnson said.
Norman’s funeral was set for Saturday, followed by a benefit concert for the school Sunday.
“That voice. Oh, it was beautiful. The way she could control it — high and low — was just amazing. And it just reached out and embraced you,” said Adrena Johnson, whose parents went to school with Norman. “And she made a difference in everything she did.”
The teacher at nearby Nikai Christian Academy brought five of her students to pay their respects and learn about a woman who used her immense talents to also change the world in other ways. Norman gave her time and money to local charities to help disadvantaged children with their education and health.
Norman won four Grammy Awards and was nominated 15 times. She won her first in 1985 for best classical vocal soloist performance for “Ravel: Songs of Maurice Ravel” and earned a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. — (AP)