'The world knew her voice': Augusta remembers Jessye Norman

Monday, September 30, 2019
News 12 at 11 o'clock

Photo Credit: Lula Williams

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - International opera star and Augusta native, Jessye Norman, died on Monday morning at 74 years old.

She died surrounded by her loved ones. Her family says she died from complications from a spinal cord injury suffered in 2015.

In Augusta, she left her mark. An amphitheater bears her name, along with the Jessye Norman School of the Arts.

With her powerful voice and her giving heart, Norman leaves a lasting legacy.

"She gave back because she never lost sight of what was behind her," said Lula Williams, a family friend and the president of Friends of Jessye Norman School of the Arts.

Williams grew up with Jessye Norman, attending the same church and singing in the church choir.

Norman, just a few years older, was a role model and mentor.

"It just meant that we had a big sister right among us who knew what we were going through and just made us so very comfortable," Williams said.

Williams says that quality was always with Norman from an early age. The Jessye Norman School of the Arts came naturally.

"If you could've just seen her with the children, it was the most magical thing you've ever seen," Williams said.

As an internationally-known opera singer, she won four Grammy awards and the National Medal of the Arts.

"Excellence has to always be the goal," Norman said in a previous interview. "There's no point in bothering if you are not going to give it your all."

In that excellence, she broke racial boundaries.

"Just a love for music, in a genre of music that wasn't necessarily one that one would expect an African-American girl in the '60s to be interested or be so very gifted in," Williams said.

By her voice, by her heart and at her school, Jessye Norman will always be remembered.

"She's leaving a trail," Williams said. "A trail that will end not necessarily on the other side, but a trail to let us know that we can achieve, others can achieve."

Gary Dennis, executive director of the Jessye Norman School of the Arts, issued the following statement regarding Norman's death:

"On behalf of the Board of Directors, Friends of the Jessye Norman School of the Arts, faculty, staff and especially the students of the Jessye Norman School of the Arts, we are tremendously saddened by Ms. Norman’s passing. As an opera superstar, she commanded the world’s stages, but here in Augusta, she quietly used the arts to make a positive impact on the lives of hundreds of children each year. The world knew her voice and our school knew her kindness and generous heart. She challenged all of us to live up to our full potential and to represent something larger than ourselves. She will be greatly missed."

Mayor Hardie Davis also took to Twitter to pay tribute to the singer. He said, "The city of Augusta mourns with the family of famed opera singer and native Jessye Norman at her passing today."

Norman was set to be in Augusta for a ceremony renaming 8th Street to Jessye Norman Boulevard on Oct. 11. That event will still go on, according to organizers.