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Jessye Norman death: Spinal cord injury comes as shock to many fans

A still from Jessye Norman as Madame Lidoine in the Act II Ave Maria from Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites from 1987. Pic credit: YouTube/Metropolitan Opera
A still from Jessye Norman as Madame Lidoine in the Act II Ave Maria from Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites from 1987. Pic credit: YouTube/Metropolitan Opera

Renowned opera singer Jessye Norman passed away on September 30, 2019, in Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital in New York, New York. She was 74 years old. The four-time Grammy Award winner was surrounded by loved ones when she passed, according to news reports.

The family of Ms. Norman released the news to the Associated Press. The statement read that Ms. Norman passed away from septic shock and multi-organ failure secondary to complications of a spinal cord injury from 2015. There is little to no public information on what happened to Ms. Norman in 2015. The cause of death has come as a shock to so many fans.

The family’s statement:

“We are so proud of Jessye’s musical achievements and the inspiration that she provided to audiences around the world that will continue to be a source of joy. We are equally proud of her humanitarian endeavors addressing matters such as hunger, homelessness, youth development, and arts and culture education.”

One blog report by Julie Ludwig shared that Ms. Norman appeared in a wheelchair at age 71 in one video seen by the author, with no reason given why.

A year earlier, Ms. Norman accepted a prize in Israel and was also in an electric wheelchair.

According to reporter Barry Davis:

I was a little taken aback to see her approaching in an electric wheelchair.  Thankfully, her incapacitation was temporary, due to an ankle fracture. Norman was clearly not going to miss out on the Wolf ceremony a second time and worked her unfortunate accident into the lecture she delivered to the attentive young IASA audience.

“You can’t always plan for everything in life,” she noted, by way of advising the teenagers that they might have to sidestep some professional and personal minefields in their future careers. “Look at me. I didn’t plan on breaking my ankle,” she said with a wry smile.

Ms. Norman broke racial barriers and achieved great success in the classical music and in the opera world, becoming a world-class soprano with the Metropolitan Opera and who toured extensively.

She grew up in Augusta, Georgia, singing gospel at the Mount Calvary Baptist Church, and during the mid-1960s, she earned a scholarship to study music at Howard University in Washington, D.C. She furthered her education at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, and then at the University of Michigan, where she earned a master’s degree in music theory and vocal technique.

For those who have never heard her magnificent voice, this is Ms. Norman cast as Madame Lidoine in the Act II Ave Maria from Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites from 1987.

Take time to watch and listen to her astounding range.

Jessye Norman’s numerous accolades

Ms. Norman received 15 Grammy nominations.

She was also inducted into the Royal Academy of Music and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.
In France, there’s an orchid named after her, and the country also honored her with the title, Commander of the Order of the Arts.

Ms. Norman became the youngest woman to receive the Kennedy Center Honors Award in 1997 (she was 52 years old).

In 2006, she received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

In 2010, she received the National Medal of the Arts from President Barack Obama.

Ms. Norman earned honorary doctorates from Juilliard, Harvard and Yale.

She is a member of the British Royal Academy of Music. She also is a member of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.

Ms. Norman also wrote a memoir in 2014 about her life and being a black artist working her way up in the world of opera titled Stand Up Straight and Sing.

In total, Ms. Norman made over 75 records in her lifetime.

Ms. Norman was the eldest of five children. Condolences to her brother James Norman and sister Elaine Sturkey.

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