Originally created 02/08/98

Jessye Norman is bringing her musical gift home



Jessye Norman is a busy woman.

Ms. Norman, an internationally acclaimed operatic soprano, travels the globe performing recitals, operatic portrayals, and appearing with symphony orchestras and chamber musicians.

In her spare time, she does civic work.

Ms. Norman, an Augusta native who lives in New York, serves on the board of directors for Citymeals-on-Wheels in New York, the New York Botanical Garden, the New York Public Library and the National Music Foundation.

So how did she find time to schedule a performance 8 p.m. Friday at Paine College?

"She's a member of our board of trustees," explained Lorraine Morris of Paine's public relations office.

While Ms. Norman may not have time for newspaper interviews -- she does not grant telephone interviews and her publicists said she was too busy to respond to written questions submitted by fax -- she has made some room in her schedule to participate in Paine College's homecoming activities.

Proceeds from the concert, held in the Gilbert-Lambuth Memorial Chapel on Paine's campus, will benefit the Jessye Norman/Ann Nealous Johnson Scholarship Fund. Mrs. Johnson recently retired from the college, where she served 35 years in various positions, including special assistant to the president.

Ms. Norman, born in Augusta on Sept. 15, 1945, graduated from Laney High School in 1963 and received an honorary doctorate from Paine College in 1991. She also has honorary doctorates from Juilliard, Howard, Harvard and Yale.

This will be Ms. Norman's first public performance in Augusta since a 1995 concert at Paine College, Mrs. Johnson said.

"We're real excited. She just loves us," said Mrs. Johnson.

Ms. Norman's concert repertoire, which is subject to change, will probably include works by Ravel, Strauss and Brahms. She will be accompanied by pianist Mark Markham, with whom she has performed in Vienna, Prague, Warsaw, Hamburg, Manchester, Philadelphia and Chicago this season.

In 1996, Augusta's Riverwalk Amphitheater and Plaza were named after her in a public ceremony.

Ms. Norman has earned accolades and honors throughout her career, including the prestigious Kennedy Center Honor, considered America's highest performing-arts award.

The Kennedy Center

annually honors members of the performing arts community for outstanding lifetime contributions to American culture. The primary criterion for selection is excellence, according to Kennedy Center officials.

The most recent Kennedy Center event, taped Dec. 7 at the center's Opera House and aired Dec. 26 on CBS, honored Ms. Norman, along with actress Lauren Bacall, singer/songwriter Bob Dylan, actor Charlton Heston and dancer Edward Villella. Ms. Norman, 52, is the youngest recipient to date, according to her management.

Kennedy Center Chairman James A. Johnson described Ms. Norman as "a soprano whose career is among the most distinguished of this century."

Brought up in a musically inclined family, she pursued formal musical training at Howard University, then later at the Peabody Conservatory and the University of Michigan.

She made her operatic debut in a 1969 production of Tannhauser at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, after which invitations to perform in operas and recitals started flowing. In 1983 she made her debut with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. She performed at the opening ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and has sung on stages from Carnegie Hall to the Vienna State Opera.

Paine College's Mrs. Johnson and her husband have traveled around the country to see Ms. Norman perform, including the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony.

"We've been to New York several, several times," she said.

Come Friday, they won't have to leave town.

ON STAGE

What: Jessye Norman in concert

When: 8 p.m. Friday, Feb.13

Where: Gilbert Lambuth Memorial Chapel, Paine College

How much: Tickets are $50 general admission and $25 for students of any area college

Phone: Credit card orders 821-8137. For general information call 821-8317.