Performing Arts: Brunching with Jessye Norman

by patrickmccoy

The Grammy award-winning soprano will be honored with a pre-inaugural brunch this weekend.

Five time Grammy winning soprano Jessye Norman will be honored by the Washington Performing Arts Society this weekend. (Photo by Carol Friedman)

World-class opera singer Jessye Norman will be honored by the Washington Performing Arts Society on Saturday, January 19  at the Hay-Adams Hotel during an invitation only pre-inaugural brunch. The soprano is no stranger to Washington, D. C., having graduated from Howard University. Though she has enjoyed an international career of legendary repute, she has always maintained close ties to the area through her many performances and her work with the university. Attorney General Eric Holder will present Ms. Norman with WPAS’ Ambassador of the Arts Award, honoring her for her years of selfless service promoting the arts, arts education and culture throughout the world.

Singer and actress Audra McDonald will perform in Ms. Norman’s honor. Lonnie Bunch, director of the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, Cora Masters Barry, Calvin Cafritz and the Israeli and Mexican ambassadors will also be in attendance, among other noted guests. Prior to her arrival in the District, Norman will conduct a masterclass at Carnegie Hall in NYC as a part of the “The Song Continues” series.

A native of Augusta, Ga., Norman acquired an affinity for music from from her early experiences in the church, and became an opera fan from listening to the radio. Attending Howard on a full scholarship, she studied voice with Carolyn Grant. After graduating, Norman did further graduate study at the Peabody Conservatory and the University of Michigan, earning the Master of Music degree. Returning to the U. S. after enjoying numerous successes in Europe, Norman made her U. S. operatic début in 1982 with the Opera Company of Philadelphia, appearing in Stravinsky’s “Oedipus Rex” as Jocasta and in the title role of Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas.” Other notable house débuts include New York’s Metropolitan Opera and Milan’s famed La Scala. In 1997, she became the youngest recipient of the Kennedy Center Honor, and was a recipient of the National Medal of Arts, presented by President Barack Obama, in 2010.

Beyond her singing, Ms. Norman has made extraordinary efforts to make sure that future generations are educated about the the joys of opera and classical music.  In 2009, she curated the Honor Festival, which celebrated the legacy of African American music both past and present.  The Jessye Norman School of the Arts, located in her hometown of Augusta, Ga., provides an opportunity for disadvantaged youth to excel in the visual and performing arts. As a mentor for the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, Norman selected American mezzo-soprano Susan Platts as her protégée.

Petersburg, Va. native Patrick D. McCoy received a B.M. in vocal performance from Virginia State University and an M.M. in church music from the Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Va.  He has contributed arts and culture pieces to CBS Washington, The Afro-American Newspaper and the newly published book, “In Spite of the Drawbacks” (Association of Black Women Historians), which includes his chapter on legendary soprano Leontyne Price.  McCoy  has interviewed some of the most acclaimed artists of our  time, including Renée Fleming, Denyce Graves, Norman Scribner, Julian Wachner, Christine Brewer and Lawrence  Brownlee.   Listen to these interviews and others  at Blog Talk Radio. McCoy may be reached via email at and on Twitter @PatrickDMcCoy.


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