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Jessye Norman (b1945)

Jessye Norman’s immediate family was extremely musical: her mother (a schoolteacher) and her grandmother were both pianists and her father (an insurance salesman) sang in a local choir. Her mother ensured that she had piano lessons from an early age, when she also demonstrated vocal talent, singing gospel songs in church. At the age of nine she heard opera for the first time on the radio and became an enthusiast, listening to recordings by Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price.

At sixteen Norman entered the Marian Anderson Vocal Competition in Philadelphia and as a result was offered a scholarship at Howard University, Washington DC, where she studied with Carolyn Grant, singing in the university chorus and as a soloist in church. In 1966 she won the National Society of Arts and Letters Singing Competition and in 1967 entered postgraduate study, first at Peabody Conservatory, Baltimore and then at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, working with Elizabeth Mannion and Pierre Bernac, and gaining her master’s degree in 1968.

In order to progress her career, Norman then moved to Europe. In 1969 she won the ARD International Music Competition in Munich, securing a three-year contract with the Deutsche Oper, Berlin and making her debut there the same year as Elisabeth / Tannhäuser, followed by the title role in Aida, the Countess / Le nozze di Figaro and Elsa / Lohengrin.




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