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 baritone James Martin.
The first time I heard Jessye Norman sing was in Opera History class. We were studying Grand Opera, specifically Les Troyens of Berlioz. The stage was huge and out walks this magnificent black woman with a voice to match. She was sheer majesty. Everything about her from her hair and makeup to her exquisite singing. I am a forever fan. I saw countless videos of her in college and had the great pleasure to hear her a few times while living in New York. I have missed her singing for some time now, but we thankfully have recordings of that. I mostly miss her presence at the table. Her voice keeping “those” conversations going that allowed those of us born young, gifted and “classically-trained” to envision yourself as part of the industry, let alone leading it. Who could have known that this beautiful black woman from Augusta, GA would one day sing the leading Wagnerian roles around the world? But this is the measure of her work. All that inspired her singing, inspired so many of us to sing and keep singing today. Thus, we keep her voice alive and a part of the song yet to be sung. Thank you, Ms. Norman. Enjoy that beautiful city.