Performing Arts: Salute to Jessye Norman

by patrickmccoy

Washington Performing Arts Society honored Norman with first Ambassador of the Arts Award. 

Jessye Norman accepted the Ambassador of the Arts Award from WPAS Chairman Reginald Van Lee at the Washington Performing Arts Society Inauguration Weekend Brunch. (Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Washington Performing Arts Society kicked off the 2013 arts scene on a high note, as they chose to honor one of classical music’s legendary artists on the dawn of President Barack Obama‘s second inauguration. Soprano Jessye Norman was presented with the first ever Ambassador of the Arts Award in recognition of her committment to artistic excellence and many contributions to the community. Her brother, James Noman, and sister, Elaine Norman, were there to celebrate with the honoree.

A lavish brunch was held in Norman’s honor at the Hay-Adams Hotel where guests enjoyed a sumptuous meal, ornamented by exquisite decor. Pianist Dana Kristina-Joi Morgan provided smooth jazz stylings as the guests mingled. The festive event began with words of welcome by board chairman Reginald Van Lee, who then introduced WPAS development chair Rachel Pearson for further remarks. With so many ambassadors present, it was only appropriate that Chief of Protocol of the U. S., Ambassador Capricia Marshall, was also among the special guests to deliver greetings to the august body.

Musical tributes came from the WPAS Children of the Gospel Choir, under the direction of Michelle Fowlin, and their trademark soulful voices were received with euphoric applause. Norman beamed throughout the performance; perhaps the children reminded her of her early days singing in the church choir.

Arts supporters such as Judith Terra and Eric Holder were among the guests on hand to celebrate Jessye Norman. (Photo by Chris Burch)

The international impact of WPAS was evident in the caliber of guests at the celebratory event, including Congressmen Mike Rogers and John Dingell, Ambassador of Spain Ramon Gil-Casares, Ambassador of Israel Michael B. Oren and Ambassador of Germany Peter Ammon. The Honorable Eric Holder, Attorney General of the United States, shared with the audience his appreciation for Ms. Norman and the influence of music in his life. A special treat of the afternoon was a performance of broadway standards by celebrated singer and actress Audra McDonald.  At the conclusion of her bouquet of selections, the singer bowed to Ms. Norman, a simple but powerful gesture that expressed her appreciation to the legendary singer who has made a little light from Augusta shine big and bright.

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, includingRenée FlemingDenyce 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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