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Soprano Jessye Norman’s funeral on Saturday

Audra McDonald, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Eric Dyson among Black entertainers to honor Norman

Crusader Staff Report

Fans, friends and relatives will bid farewell to opera legend Jessye Norman this weekend in her hometown of Augusta, GA, where a four-day celebration of her life will be held.

Audra McDonald

Norman’s funeral is set for 1 p.m. Saturday at Augusta’s Bell Auditorium. There will be tributes from actor and Augusta native Laurence Fishburne, civil rights activist and longtime friend Vernon Jordan and Tony Award-winning actress Audra McDonald.

Doors open at noon and seating in the 2,800-seat Bell will be available to the public.

Two public viewings for Norman will be held, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday and 9 a.m. to noon Friday at Mt. Calvary, where Norman first sang publicly as a child.

Performing and speaking at the funeral are musician and Waynesboro native Wycliffe Gordon, author Michael Eric Dyson, the Reverend Dr. James Alexander Forbes Jr., as well as Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis.

McDonald, who with six Tony Awards has won more than any other Broadway performer, will give a musical tribute as will operatic soprano and Broadway performer Harolyn Blackwell, and operatic tenor Lawrence Brownlee. Musical direction is by Damien Sneed, Norman’s longtime friend and a Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School graduate.

Elder Raymond Sturkey, Norman’s nephew, will give the eulogy and the Reverend Clyde Hill Sr., of Mt. Calvary Baptist Church will officiate the home-going service for family, friends, dignitaries and special guests.

After an illustrious career at New York’s esteemed Metropolitan Opera and opera houses around the world, Norman died on September 30, two weeks after celebrating her 74th birthday.

A diva, who at one point in her celebrated career owned homes in New York and London, wowed the world many times over in sold-out opera houses. She sang before royalty and presidents at grand events and galas.

While Norman was one of the most sought after artists on the world stage, few remember that Norman performed for years in Chicago before she made her famous 1983 debut at the Metropolitan Opera, where she gave at least 80 memorable performances.

Six years after gaining the attention of the opera world, Norman made her debut with the Chicago Symphony at Orchestra Hall on March 21, 1974. For three consecutive days, she performed composer Robert Schumman’s “Das Paradies und die Per, Opus 50.”

Norman first performed at the Ravinia Festival on August 9, 1975, where she sang Hector Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’ ete, Opus 7. In 1978 at Ravinia, Norman performed with Kathleen Battle, another rising Black soprano who a year prior, made her debut at New York’s Metropolitan Opera.

In 1991, Norman and Battle performed a special concert of African American Spirituals at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Today, a CD of “Concert Spirituals,” remains a popular item on Amazon with five-star reviews. That same year, Norman gave eight performances of Alceste performed at Chicago’s Lyric Opera.

In 2009, Norman recorded “A Celebration of the African American Cultural Legacy.”  In 2010, Norman released “Roots: My Life, My Song.”

But Orchestra Hall was Norman’s most frequented venue in Chicago. In all, she gave 26 performances there as a vocal soloist and narrator. She performed a total of nine times at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park. Her last performance in Chicago was in 2002 at a recital with Pianist Mark Markham.

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