Augusta is proud to claim Jessye Norman as our own.
But truly, she belongs to the world.
The Augusta native and Lucy C. Laney High School graduate is a world-traveled soprano and a Grammy-winning opera singer, concertist and recitalist. Her fame and her voice have been sounded across the globe, and she’s been heard and hailed and recognized at the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, Europe and beyond.
Frankly, it’s amazing she has time for all that, given her astounding reach in humanitarian works. She’s on boards of all kinds, and has worked to combat AIDS, lupus, homelessness, hunger and more.
Her advocacy for the arts is every bit as humanitarian, too – and not just singing, but dance, drama, visual arts and even
Right here in Augusta, where the Riverwalk amphitheater is named in her honor, she has served on the boards of Paine College and the Augusta Opera Association. More famously, she has co-created and continually supported the Jessye Norman School of the Arts – a tuition-free after-school program to nurture the creativity and talents of underprivileged Augusta youth who otherwise might never have been exposed to the arts, or to the depths of their own souls.
For all these wonderful things and more, Jessye Norman received the NAACP’s highest honor last week: the Spingarn Medal for outstanding and noble achievement by an American citizen of African descent.
She couldn’t be more deserving. We couldn’t be prouder of her.
The magnitude of her honor can only be fathomed by reciting some of the award’s past recipients: Rosa Parks, Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, Sammy Davis Jr., Hank Aaron, Oprah Winfrey, George Washington Carver and – yes – the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
That’s simply historic. Jessye Norman is simply historic.
But the thing we love most about this singing superstar and humanitarian is the message her example sends to those who might follow in her steps: that no matter where you come from, with the proper parenting and mentoring, with unshakable drive and discipline and belief in yourself, you can do whatever you set your mind to.
That hasn’t always been the message young black girls and boys received. It couldn’t be more loud and clear today.
It comes, after all, in one of the world’s most beautiful voices.