This week New York Festival of Song honors the great Jessye Norman and her legacy with a series of remembrances from those she inspired. Today’s tribute comes from soprano Harolyn Blackwell.
I first heard Ms. Norman sing when I was 18 years of age and vacationing in Mexico City. I had never heard of her. What caught my eye was a beautiful picture of an African American Opera Singer outside the concert hall. I immediately told my best friend we had to purchase tickets and attend. We were sitting in the heavens. The regal Ms. Norman arrived on stage and proceeded not to walk but glide across the stage as she went to the crook of the piano and stood there in silence. The accompanist began to play and she started singing. My breath was taken away because I had never heard a voice with a sound that literally came from the bottom of the earth and then soared to the heavens. The warmth and beauty of her sound enveloped me and tears immediately ran down my cheeks. That was my introduction to Ms. Jessye Norman.
These past few years, I have had the honor and privilege of working with Ms. Norman on our project Call Her By Her Name: Sissieretta Jones. A project that was very dear to her. We are planning to continue to move forward with the project and Honor the legacies of Ms. Norman and Sissieretta Jones. As we became colleagues and friends, I began to call her Jessye. I realized at that moment our relationship had changed without me being aware of it. The awe that I had experienced as an 18-year-old student was now one of love for a friend and a sister. She will always be a magnificent and amazing artist but I will also remember, her love, warmth, wisdom and generosity. Thank you, dear Jessye for being one of the most beautiful and brilliant women and human beings to touch my life. Rest In Peace and Divine Love.