“Honestly, I can’t think of a single other soprano or mezzo-soprano with anything remotely approaching her sound … It was almost like a wall of sound coming at us, but extremely beautiful and consistent.”

~ Renée Fleming, legendary soprano

On September 15, 1945 in Augusta, Georgia, Silas and Janie Norman welcomed a baby girl into their lives; they named her Jessye.  Her parents were professionals of the Black middle class, her father worked selling insurance and her mother taught school.  Though amateurs, her family was involved with music.  Her father sang in the choir and her mother and grandmother played the piano, which would also be taught to Jessye and her five siblings.

A bright student, Jessye knew from a young age that she wanted to sing.  Outside of familial influences, she was initially inspired by the powerful and beautiful voices of Sister Childs and Mrs. Golden, two women who attended Mount Calvary Baptist Church.  It was at this church where her family was members and she began singing gospel songs at only four years old. 

Three years later, she entered and placed third in her first vocal competition.  In her performance of a song, she forgot parts of the lyrics.  However, this was indeed a learning lesson for her, as she was quoted in The New York Times about this incident by reporter Emily Langer.  In “Jessye Norman, Acclaimed Operatic Soprano, Dies at 74” of The Washington Post, Langer tells of how Norman stated that “she flubbed the second stanza of the hymn ‘God Will Take Care of You’.  I guess He has taken care of me,” she quipped. ‘That was my last memory slip in public.’”

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