Jessye Norman (September 15, 1945 – September 30, 2019) was an American opera singer and recitalist. A dramatic soprano, Norman sang a broad repertoire and avoided being limited to one kind of fach. She famously stated "pigeonholes are for pigeons”, and that she was "attracted to the unusual". A towering figure on operatic, concert, and recital stages, she was associated with roles including Bartók's Judith, Beethoven's Leonore, Berlioz's Cassandre and Didon, Bizet's Carmen, Gluck's Alceste, Janácek's Emilia Marty, Mozart's Countess Almaviva, Poulenc's Madame Lidoine, Purcell's Dido, Strauss's Ariadne, Stravinsky's Jocasta, Verdi's Aida, and Wagner's Sieglinde, Kundry, and Elisabeth. The New York Times music critic Edward Rothstein described her voice as a "grand mansion of sound”, and wrote that “it has enormous dimensions, reaching backward and upward. It opens onto unexpected vistas. It contains sunlit rooms, narrow passageways, cavernous halls. Ms. Norman is the regal mistress of this domain, with a physical presence suited to her vocal expanse."
Norman was trained at Howard University, the Peabody Institute, and the University of Michigan. She first made a career in Europe, where winning the ARD International Music Competition in Munich in 1968 led to a contract with the Deutsche Oper Berlin. She made her operatic début as Elisabeth in Wagner's Tannhäuser, followed by appearing as Verdi's Aida at La Scala in Milan. She made her debut appearance in an opera in the United States in 1982 with the Opera Company of Philadelphia, appearing as Jocasta in Stravinsky's Oedipus rex, and as Dido in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. She went on to sing leading roles with many other companies, including the Metropolitan Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Paris Opera, and the Royal Opera, London to name just a few. She sang at the second inauguration of Ronald Reagan, at Queen Elizabeth II's 60th birthday celebration in 1986, and performed the La Marseillaise to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution on July 14, 1989. She sang at the 1996 Summer Olympics opening ceremony in Atlanta and for the second inauguration of Bill Clinton in 1997.
Norman sang and recorded recitals of music by Schubert, Brahms, Chausson, Poulenc, Mahler, and Strauss, among others. In 1984, she won the Grammy Award for Best Classical Vocal Solo, the first of five Grammy Awards that she would collect during her career. She was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1999 and became a Spingarn Medalist in 2013. Apart from several honorary doctorates and other awards, she also received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and the National Medal of Arts, and was a member of the British Royal Academy of Music.