By Lawrence Yee, MSN | The soprano died from septic shock and multi-organ failure secondary to complications of a spinal cord injury she had sustained in 2015, according to family statement issued to the Associated Press.
“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. We are equally proud of her humanitarian endeavors addressing matters such as hunger, homelessness, youth development, and arts and culture education,” the family statement read.
Norman was born in Georgia to a musical family. As a child, she sang in the church gospel choir and listened to the Metropolitan Opera via radio. At 16, she entered a singing competition named after her idol — Marian Anderson. Norman did not win, but was offered a full scholarship to Howard University.
After graduating with a Masters from the University of Michigan in 1968, Norman spent a decade in Europe building up her operatic repertoire, performing with German and Italian companies. It wouldn’t be until 1982 when she made her U.S. debut performing with the Opera Company of Philadelphia. She would debut at the Metropolitan Opera — the company she listened to as a child on the radio — the following year. By the mid-’80s, she was one of the most in-demand sopranos in the world.
Norman sang at the second inaugurations of presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. In 1996, she sang at the Opening Ceremony of the 1996 Summer Olympics, which were held in her home state of Georgia. She also famously sang at the 9/11 memorial in March 2002.
Norman won four Grammy Awards over her long career and won the Life Achievement Award in 2006. She was also bestowed many honors, including the Légion d’honneur, the Kennedy Center Honors, and National Media of the Arts. She received the 12th Glenn Gould Prize for her contribution to opera and the arts in 2018.
She was also a philanthropist, contributing to many causes dear to heart, including music and homeless programs, and AIDS research.
Photo: Jessye Norman: In Conversation with Tom Hall (Walters Art Museum, photo by Jati Lindsay)
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Other Notable Musicians’ Deaths…
2: Giya Kancheli, 84, Georgian composer (Unusual Exhibition, Don’t Grieve, Mimino); Barrie Masters, 63, English singer (Eddie and the Hot Rods); Kim Shattuck, 56, American singer, songwriter and musician (The Muffs, The Pandoras, Pixies), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
1: Karel Gott, 80, Czech singer, acute myeloid leukemia; Bat McGrath, 73, American musician and songwriter (Friends and Love, “Come Some Rainy Day”), liver cancer; Beverly Watkins, 80, American blues guitarist.
30: Gianni Lenoci, 56, Italian jazz pianist; Jessye Norman, 74, American opera singer, Grammy winner (1984, 1988, 1989, 1998), multiple organ failure; Louie Rankin, 66, Jamaican-born Canadian dancehall reggae artist and actor (Belly, Shottas), traffic collision.
29: Martin Bernheimer, 83, American music critic, Pulitzer Prize winner (1982), sarcoma; busbee, 43, American songwriter (“Try”, “Our Kind of Love”, “Summer Nights”) and music producer, glioblastoma.
28: José José, 71, Mexican singer (“El Triste”, “Como Tú”) and actor (Gavilán o Paloma), pancreatic cancer; Dessie O’Halloran, 79, Irish fiddler and vocalist.
27: Jimmy Spicer, 61, American rapper, brain and lung cancer; Bob Esty, 72, American composer (Roller Boogie soundtrack) and producer (Donna Summer), metastatic cancer.
26: Myron Bloom, 93, American French horn player; Martin Wesley-Smith, 74, Australian composer, cancer.
25: Paul Badura-Skoda, 91, Austrian pianist; Omeofa Oghene, Nigerian reggae singer.
23: Richard Brunelle, 55, American guitarist (Morbid Angel, Paths of Possession); Jim DeSalvo, 53, American music producer (Jon Anderson) and composer, traffic collision; Robert Hunter, 78, American Hall of Fame lyricist (Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia, Bob Dylan), poet and musician.