Opera legend Jessye Norman’s funeral set for Georgia hometown
Actor Laurence Fishburne is expected to speak and musicians Wycliffe Gordon and J’Nai Bridges from the Metropolitan Opera will perform.
AUGUSTA, Ga. — World-famous performers, civil rights leaders and people who know her good works are gathering for the funeral of international opera star Jessye Norman in her Georgia hometown.
Norman will be laid to rest Saturday afternoon at the William B. Bell Auditorium in Augusta, Georgia, with a private burial to follow.
Actor Laurence Fishburne is expected to speak and musicians Wycliffe Gordon and J’Nai Bridges from the Metropolitan Opera will perform. Norman’s longtime friend and civil rights activist Vernon Jordan will talk about the singer’s life along with elders at her family’s church in Augusta.
Norman’s funeral will be streamed live.
Norman died Sept. 30at age 74. She was a trailblazing performer, and one of the rare black singers to attain worldwide stardom in the opera world.
Hundreds of people paid their respects to Norman, whose soaring soprano filled the sanctuary of Mt. Calvary Baptist Church during visitation Thursday and Friday.
The mourners included Deanne Brown, daughter of singer James Brown — The Godfather of Soul and one of Augusta’s most famous musicians. There were sorority sisters, a church music director who met Norman after a concert, a woman who went to the then-segregated Lucy C. Laney High School with Norman in Augusta and remembered how her choir solos even then commanded the tiny stage. And there was a woman who went to music school at the University of Michigan with Norman and said she had never heard anything like her before or since.
”Her voice would captivate you. You could feel exactly the emotion in her soul. And it wasn’t just opera. She could sing anything better than just about anyone else. She found her place in opera, but she was just as good singing with a pop choir in England or a gospel group here,” said Stephen Mitchell, a music director at a church in Athens, Georgia, who met Norman once — after a concert in Birmingham, Alabama, and was instantly mesmerized.
Augusta named a street for her Friday just outside the Jessye Norman School of the Arts, which she founded in 2003 to provide free fine arts education to disadvantaged children.
Norman won four Grammy Awards and had 15 nominations. She won her first in 1985 for best classical vocal soloist performance for “Ravel: Songs Of Maurice Ravel.” She earned a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.
She received the National Medal of Arts and the Kennedy Center Honor as well. Her performance of ”Amazing Grace” at the 1995 Kennedy Center Honors tribute to Sidney Poitier brought the actor to tears.
Norman was awarded the National Medal of Arts from former President Barack Obama and is both a member of the British Royal Academy of Music and Georgia Music Hall of Fame. She sang the works of Wagner, but also Duke Ellington.
”Pigeonholing is only interesting to pigeons,” Norman said in a 2002 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.