In Memoriam: Jessye Norman, 1945–2019

October 3, 2019 - November 3, 2019

Born Augusta, Georgia

Jessye Norman was one of the twentieth century’s greatest sopranos. She received five Grammy Awards, including one for lifetime achievement in 2006, and a host of other honors. A graduate of Howard University, Norman went on to perform around the world, her rich and opulent voice bringing audiences to their feet at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, the Royal Opera House in London, and the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.

While earlier Black singers of opera and classical music, such as Sissieretta Jones, Marian Anderson, and Leontyne Price, had experienced success before her, Norman later lamented that the music community seemed slow to change. “Racial barriers in our world are not gone, so why can we imagine that racial barriers in classical music and the opera world are gone?” 

Irving Penn photographed Norman for Vanity Fair in the fall of 1983, when she was performing at the Met.

woman singing with her open hand beside her face
Jessye Norman by Irving Penn / Platinum-palladium print, 1983 (printed 1985) / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Irving Penn, © 1983 The Conde Nast Publications Inc.