Opera legend visits school

Stepping off the buses that take them from their schools to an after-school program at St. John United Methodist Church on Greene Street, a small cluster of children walks quickly down a hall toward classrooms.


"I'm going to get her to sign my shirt," says one girl, holding out a permanent marker.

The person referred to isn't a pop star or famous actress, a politico or athlete. She's opera legend Jessye Norman, known for her sterling soprano voice and, in these halls, supporting the arts program that bears her name.

In town more to inspire than inspect, she visited Monday at the Jessye Norman School of the Arts.

Ms. Norman, a native of Augusta, lent her name, support and expertise to the school, which opened in 2003. Over the past five years, Ms. Norman has continued to be not only a role model for the middle school students who participate in the program, but to serve on the board and take an active role in the day-to-day operation of the school.

"It would never occur to me to be involved with an organization or to lend my name and not be active in that organization," Ms. Norman said.

Although involved with a variety of organizations -- including the New York Public Library, The New York Botanical Garden and the Dance Theatre of Harlem -- Ms. Norman said the small school in her hometown has proven a project dear to her. She said the Jessye Norman School marries her two great passions -- the arts and education.

"That (education) was always an important part of my upbringing," she said. "My mother had been a schoolteacher in Wilkes County and education was something we thought about, and talked about, every day. When I was a child, it was never a question of if we would go to college, it was where we would go to college."

Although her career has led her away from Augusta, Ms. Norman said the rewards she gets from being involved in the school include being able to embrace the community where she first sang.

She said she has caught herself warming up for concerts at Carnegie Hall thinking about the students at the Jessye Norman School, who might have performed the night before.

"I don't feel what I get in return for working with organizations, particularly the school, is abstract at all," she said, smiling.

"It's soul satisfaction."

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.


The Jessye Norman School of the Arts is an after-school program for middle school pupils. They study theater, music, art and dance, and they can remain with it through high school.