Legendary Opera Singer, Jessye Norman, Dies At 74

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 06:  Singer Jessye Norman performs at the 2014 John Jay College of Criminal Justice Awards at Gerald W. Lynch Theatre on May 6, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)

Legendary Opera Singer, Jessye Norman, Dies At 74

The African-American soprano was an American treasure, often called to celebrate and memorialize America’s most significant events.

Published September 30th

Written by Angela Wilson

Internationally renowned opera star, Jessye Norman, has passed away at 74, the Associated Press reports. Gwendolyn Quinn, spokesperson for Norman’s family, confirmed the heartbreaking news. The Associated Press released a statement

stating that the Augusta, Georgia native passed away at 7:54 a.m. on the morning of Monday, September 30. The cause of death, septic shock, a fatal medical condition that occurs when an organ injury leads to infection and dangerously low blood pressure. The condition was a result of complications from a 2015 spinal cord injury. The Grammy Award winning soprano passed away at New York City’s, Mount Sinai St. Luke's Hospital. 

Says Norman’s family in a 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 cultural education.”

Born into a musical family, Norman got her start singing in her church’s choir before receiving a full scholarship to Howard University, where she studied music. She continued her education at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Maryland and at the University of Michigan.

On January 21, 1985, Norman’s career reached new heights as she was called to sing at several significant American ceremonies. First, she sang at President Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration, with George H. W. Bush, serving as Vice President.

12 years later, on Monday, January 20, 1997, Norman sang again at the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. for President Bill Clinton's second inauguration with Vice President. 

At the memorial of the September 11 attacks, in March of 2002, Norman was invited to bless the country with her stirring rendition of, “America the Beautiful.” 

Norman was a globally known and loved, Opera star, but also known for her philanthropy. The Diva was awarded many honors, including the Légion d’honneur, the highest French order of merit for military and civil merits by Napoleon Bonaparte. At 52, she was the youngest person ever to receive the Kennedy Center Honors in 1997, an annual tribute awarded to artists for their lifetime of contributions to American culture.  

Funeral arrangements will be announced soon. The BET family sends our thoughts and prayers to Norman’s family and millions of fans.

Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

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