A priori, Jessye Norman stood as the beautiful, void of emotionalism while expressing through tone the deepest understanding of that which exists and has ever existed. We are those that bear fruit, for that same Spirit rests on us with knowledge and counsel.
When I first met the magnificent Ms. Norman I was an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan. My voice professor, Dean Willis Patterson, had brought her to the School of Music to do a seminar. She was once a student at Michigan.
The seminar wasn’t widely advertised. Besides students and professors, the audience was replete with foreign speakers. Afterwards, I stood in line to speak with her and was amazed how easily she went from English to French to German to Italian to Spanish and on and on. “How many languages do you speak?” I asked when it was finally my turn in the queue. “A great many with the exception of Hebrew,” she responded. She drew me close and spoke words of encouragement. “There is nothing you can’t do,” she said. “When I started I was told that I was too big and too black to succeed. You can do it!”
A few years later, I was back stage at the Metropolitan Opera in New York after her performance. She knew I would be in the audience that night, but she didn’t know that I would have with me the daughter whose father is the founder and general director of the Michigan Opera Theater, Dr. David DiChiera. The daughter readily spoke up about her father. Ms. Norman was very kind to her, but it was apparent that she wanted to know how things were going with me. She pulled me to the side and asked me how things were progressing. At that moment, she was more interested in me than hearing the accolades of the throngs of people backstage waiting to see her.
We stand as that shoot which sprang up from the root of Jessye with wisdom, understanding, and strength, for she showed us how to exist on stage and off. We don’t fear because we are of that which with power, grace and magnificence created space in the world for us to behold and emulate.