World renowned opera singer and recitalist Jessye Norman has donated thousands of items documenting her illustrious 50-year career to the Library of Congress. The acquisition was announced on Thursday evening during a conversation with the celebrated soprano in the Coolidge Auditorium before an enthusiastic crowd. The audience listened to Norman discuss her decades-long career, her role as a trailblazer in classical music and her passion for mentoring young artists. The program was part of the Music Division’s “Concerts from the Library of Congress” series.
The collection of about 29,000 items consists of musical arrangements written specifically for Norman, including orchestrations of songs by George and Ira Gershwin and the sacred music of Duke Ellington; business papers related to Norman’s opera and concert performances; publicity materials; concert and opera programs; mockups of album art work; fan mail; recordings; and professional and amateur photographs, providing a visual record of her legacy as a performer.
The collection also contains correspondence, schedules and itineraries dating from Norman’s early operatic career in Europe, through her debut at the Metropolitan Opera, to her unforgettable performance at the 1996 Olympic Summer Games and recent advocacy work with young people. Rarely seen materials include correspondence regarding projects that were never fully developed.
“Jessye Norman is one of the most iconic opera singers of the 20th century,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “She not only produces a beautiful, acoustically rich sound, but also conveys artistic depth through both the poetry and musical phrasing. Her understanding of vocal artistry places her among the most recognized and revered sopranos in the world. We are pleased that this legendary performer’s papers will join the Library’s unparalleled musical arts collections.”
“When a freshman at Howard University, having found my way to the Library of Congress and the vast, wonderfully welcoming reading room where it was possible to study in peace, I could never have imagined that years later this august building would store papers from my professional life, which at that time, was not imaginable either,” Norman said. “I am honored beyond words to express my depth of feeling, so I will simply thank you.”
The collection chronicles Norman’s early career as a changemaker. She had the courage and foresight to delay accepting more dramatic singing roles in order to nurture her developing voice, instead dedicating herself to recital performances for many of her formative years. She later tackled roles featuring more emotionally complex characters, becoming the catalyst for the revival of challenging operatic works such as Schoenberg’s one-woman opera “Erwartung.” Norman orchestrated her career like a maestro and charted her own course of excellence with her incomparable voice and artistry.
Raised in Augusta, Georgia, her childhood affinity for reading, science and music gave her the foundation for an international career as a classical singer. Although her career has taken her around the globe, she remains active in her hometown of Augusta with the Jessye Norman School of the Arts, an after-school arts education program for middle-and-high school students.
Norman is a five-time Grammy winner, which includes the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. She has received numerous awards, including the Kennedy Center Honors, the National Medal of Arts, the Glenn Gould Prize for Music and more than 40 honorary doctorates.
The Jessye Norman Papers will complement the Library’s existing collections of legendary classical artists, including Leonard Bernstein, Jascha Heifetz and Beverly Sills. The collection will be available to researchers, scholars and opera enthusiasts in the Library’s Performing Arts Reading Room.
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