Jessye Norman with Eleanor Wachtel | Feb. 16, 2019 | Toronto Public Library

Jessye Norman with Eleanor Wachtel | Feb. 16, 2019 | Toronto Public Library

[music] Eleanor Wachtel: You’ve described your childhood
in Augusta, Georgia as our little garden of Eden. Why was it so bountiful? Jessye Norman: It was magical in that I was
growing up in the Jim Crow South, segregation everywhere and I could have been in the situation
where it would have been easy to have worn that differently but I was very lucky to grow
up in a loving community around the corner from our church, down the road from my elementary
school with parents who were incredibly interested in education and enveloping the minds and
bodies of their five children and so, we were a part of a loving community. The person across the street from us, Miss
Hubert, was as interested in my report card as my aunt or my mother or my father and one
had to show it to her and she would also say “Well, why do you have a B?” I’d say “Well, it’s physics” I mean, really. JN: But it was a wonderful way, of course
when you’re growing up, you haven’t the faintest idea that everybody else in the world isn’t
growing up the same so the fact that we had to beg to please be allowed to have cereal
on a Saturday instead of a hot breakfast, which of course, we were made to eat the rest
of the time and of course who knew and it’s just that kind of thing. I think about now as having taken it all for
granted but the fact that my father would somehow arrange his day, my father was a manager
of an insurance company. He would somehow arrange his day to drive
me wherever I had to sing and I was singing all the time. I promise you. I sang more as a child than I did as a professional. They didn’t have to pay me you see, so it
was fine. [laughter] JN: But I was singing for the opening of a
grocery store, for the opening of a recreation center, its true. I promise you. I sang for the opening of a grocery store
and it wasn’t a very big grocery store either. The opening of a new sort of store downtown
for shoes or something and certainly, for the Parents-Teacher Association, I was kind
of… I think the… I don’t know, the Mascot or something for
the Parents-Teacher Association. But it was that kind of experience growing
up as a child that made it possible for me to have an interesting and happy life growing
up in a situation that could have made me feel very differently about myself and very
differently about my place in the world and just a lucky break. EW: But you must have been aware growing up
in the deep south of the 1950s and ’60s. JN: Of course, absolutely. EW: You were surrounded by signs of segregation… JN: Surrounded by… Absolutely. There were water fountains, one that would
say… Written ‘colored’ and the next one would say
‘white’ and because at age 5 or 6, I simply didn’t understand what the nonsense was about. I was to go to the white fountain and turn
on the water and I’d go to the colored fountain and turn on the water and I would say to my
mother that she did know, “But they were the same.” [laughter] JN: And I tell the story always about the
first trip that I remember of our going on a trip from Augusta, Georgia to Philadelphia
to visit friends of ours there and we went by train and of course, in those days, people
got dressed up to go onto a train trip and we went to the train station and it wasn’t
very full of people at the time and of course, there was a white section and the colored
section and so I went over and sat in the white section and played around and sort of
said to my mother, “Well, the seats are the same, it’s just on the other side of the room. What is this?” And at some point, my mother said, “Oh, just
sit down and be quiet.” And she didn’t say come back over and sit
with us. She just left me there. EW: But could you sense her anxiety? No? Okay. JN: No, I don’t think she was anxious at all. Absolutely not and as a young child, I was
a member of the youth center for NAACP, The National Association for the Advancement of
Colored People and my brother who was just four or five years older than I, was the president
of this association so we were involved in sit-ins and we were given money by the NAACP
to go and actually sit at the lunch counter and if you were given food, at least you could
pay for it but most of the time, we were completely ignored and I just thought that people just
didn’t know how to behave well. I still do. [laughter] EW: And you weren’t nervous? I mean, your parents would have insulated
you from… JN: Well, I wasn’t insulated, I was just such
a kind of rebellious spirit that I thought if people could just sort of think about it
and I said to my mother at one point, “Well, how could somebody dislike me? They don’t even know me.” I mean, I clean up my room on a Saturday the
way we’re supposed to. I’m a good person but I was completely unaccepting
of the fact of segregation and I was that way all my life. When we were marching in the streets and there
was an occasion when we were marching and we were all children and we were marching
against the supermarket that was in the black community but they didn’t hire anybody of
our race to do anything in the store except clean the floors and maybe lock up at night
and it was a huge store and there were lots of food and lots of things they were selling
there and there were lots of cash registers and there wasn’t a single black person on
the cash registers. JN: And so, one of the organizations in the
city decided that we would boycott this particular supermarket and so we were there on our day
to do that, sort of marching and it was only because some of the children in the back screamed
that we weren’t run over by a car because the car was aiming for us and he misses only
because we were able to get out of the way but people were determined that the old south
would rise again and we were determined that it would not and even as children, we understood
that what was being told to us about us simply was not true because my girlfriend Andre could
play the piano as well as anybody that I saw on television so why wasn’t she allowed to
be on television? So it was just the kind of thing that I experienced
that I simply refused to accept or refused to wear. EW: There were five children in the family. JN: Yes, five. EW: And your parents, as you were saying,
had strong emphasis on education. JN: Oh yes. EW: And three of you went to a large segregated
school and the younger two to an integrated school and it’s ironic ’cause I’ve read this
in other places as well, ’cause you describe going to a segregated school as actually being
a blessing. JN: It’s been an incredible blessing and I
say this without wanting people to think that we should go back to separate but equal, Plessy
v. Ferguson was not a good idea then and it certainly wouldn’t be a good idea now. The separation of the racist and calling this
equal but the thing was, you see, I grew up with teachers in my elementary school, in
my middle school, in my high school who wanted us to do well. We were the first generation of children born
after World War II and therefore, they were there to see to it that we were going to have
it where a better life than they had had and so, I was telling the other day, the principal,
the vice principal of my elementary school had a piano in her office that if you arrived
a half hour before school was meant to start, you could go into Mrs. Brown’s office and
sing with her. JN: And we’d sing whatever she’d be playing
on the piano and we would start school in that way. There was a chorus, there was a band, there
was a dance class, all of this. Our parents at that time would not have stood
for an education, a public school education that did not include the arts. They wouldn’t have stood for it. There would have been no discussion of taking
away the arts because it’s too expensive or is it really necessary? They knew instinctively that it was necessary
and just as we had my wonderful school in Augusta, some of those children are coming
up in two or three days, isn’t that wonderful? JN: But just as we are trying to not to build
necessarily people that will become performers in the arts, we want to help to build complete
people and we know that this is just as important as science and technology and engineering
and mathematics… EW: But it wasn’t just the arts… [applause] EW: I certainly second that emotion. [chuckle] but it wasn’t just the arts, it
was that by being in a segregated school, they cared more for you, they paid more attention. JN: Yes, they did. They paid more attention. There was no such thing as cutting class or
not coming to school because if you cut class, then everybody knew about it and your mother
knew about it before you got home, which wasn’t a good thing and there was no truancy because
there were people that were sent out. If somebody was missing from the class, was
that person sick? They had to be really sick in bed not to be
at school and so, there were people that would call your home if you were not in class, even
though the classes were overcrowded. JN: Some of the classes in which I studied
as an elementary school student, there were 40 kids but we sat alphabetically in the classroom
so it was easy for the teacher to know whether or not there was someone missing and who was
missing and so this kind of attention was something I think that helped us all to try
to do our best, knowing that they wanted us to do our best. For instance, there was a problem when I first
started studying Algebra. I didn’t get it and the professor, whom I
adore to this moment, was called William Self and he said, “You’re not really understanding
very much about algebra.” I said, “I’m not interested in it really.” JN: And I was taking high school classes that
would make it possible for me to go to medical school so I had to have a certain number of
science and mathematics courses and so, he invited me after classes he said, “Come and
stay with me after class. We’re going to go through this.” Now, he did not have to do that. He had dozens and dozens of other students
with whom he was working but he took me after class to explain the principle of algebra
and all the rest of it and of course, then I understood it and I understood that I had
to be interested in it as well. JN: But it was that kind of encouragement
and that kind of paying attention to what the students are doing, that of course, at
the time, as I always say, we took it completely for granted. We just assumed this is the way school went,
that your teachers were interested in what you were doing, that they wanted you to do
well and of course, now I realize that that was really very special and that we were very
fortunate, really. EW: Jessye Norman ‘Stand Up Straight and Sing’
is the title of a memoir you wrote in 2014 and the admonition to ‘Stand Up Straight’
is something that many children hear from their parents but maybe not always the part
about singing. Why did you choose this title? JN: I chose that title because that was everything
my mother used to say to me every time I was going out on stage, many times a week to sing
some place. I had the tendency to slouch and she would
say, “Honey, stand up straight and sing.” And so I thought that in honor of her, I will
put that as the title of the book ’cause it was something I heard at least 2500 times. [laughter] EW: But there are other layers to that, the
idea of standing up and standing up straight and… JN: Yes, absolutely. Standing up straight in this world and singing
for those things that are important to you, that aside from being involved in our own
professions and I say this as often as I can, that we have to understand that we’re living
in communities, we’re living in communities where certainly, in the United States, there
are too many people that are homeless. There are too many people that go to bed at
night with not enough food, there are too many children that are getting maybe to middle
school and dropping out of school altogether. What are you going to do in life with an eighth
grade education? How are you going to become a full citizen? How are you gonna pay taxes and contribute
to your own society if you do not stay and educate yourself so that you can have a life
that can be nourishing for you and for those around you? But I think it’s important that we should
understand that whatever we’re doing, we are growing up in the community of people, and
we have to care about them. EW: The church was the center of your community
spiritual, social, musical and political life and you grew up singing spirituals and gospel
songs and later, they became part of your concert repertoire. What does it mean to you to sing a spiritual,
both back then and now? JN: Well, how shall I explain that? Singing a spiritual, I’m channelling my grandmother
who had an absolutely beautiful voice and sang all the time. I’ll tell you a little story, I was doing… I have a production that I call Sacred Ellington. Duke Ellington composed three different sacred
concerts in the late ’60s and what I did was to take music from the three different concerts
and it uses a dancer, we use a tap dancer. We have a gospel choir, yes and then we have
a string quartet. We also have an orchestra, it’s a big production,
anyway we were doing this at the Episcopal cathedral in Philadelphia and after the performance,
there was applause and they wanted us to do something else and we’d exhausted the program. What could we do? JN: And so I decided, I would sing a spiritual
on my own and it’s a big church and I had never done this before in my life and I started
to sing this spiritual and I left the area of our performance which was in front of the
altar and I started walking around the church and my older brother was there at the time
and he said, “I’ve never seen you do that before” and I said “I just thought about it”
and he said, “Well, that’s exactly what your grandmother used to do.” You know, the church service would be in play
and somebody would say, “Sister”, she was called Maimy. “Sister Maimy, would you like to sing a song?” And she would come up in front of the church
and she would walk around the church greeting her neighbours and she would sing the whole
time. JN: I had no idea about that. I had completely forgotten about it but I
was channelling her somehow, I really feel because I have never done that before or since
but I felt very comfortable in doing that in this huge church and feeling that was all
right and everybody… No one seemed sort of ill at ease because
I was doing it and certainly I felt fine about it but it was really telling afterwards when
my brother said “but that’s exactly what your Grandmama Maimy used to do”. EW: And you used to hear her singing all the
time. JN: Yes, all the time, all times a day. You could tell her mood by whether or not
she was singing a happy song or not. [chuckle] EW: One song that’s not a spiritual, Amazing
Grace, has a special place in your repertoire. JN: Yes. EW: Why is that? JN: I haven’t gone anywhere in the world where
people don’t know Amazing Grace. I was singing in South Korea a few years ago
and we’d exhausted the whole thing that we’d sort of done on the program and we’d done
some encores as well and the audience was still there. [laughter] JN: I went on stage and I played for myself
Amazing Grace. The entire audience of 5000 people sang ‘Amazing
Grace’ back to me. It is interesting for us to know the origin
of the song. It was written by a person in the British
Navy whose job it was to go to Africa, pick up slaves, put them in the bowel of his ship
and drive them back to England. On one of these occasions, there came a tempest
on the ocean and he was certain that everybody was going to drown, including his cargo in
the bowels of the ship and it was at that time that he, who really had no particular
faith, started to pray. JN: And at that moment, the words for Amazing
Grace came into his mind because in the end, the tempest calmed and everybody was saved
and this is why you have the words “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch
like me” because what he was doing was certainly wretched and after that, he became a minister,
as happens but it’s important that we should know that this song grew out of a person’s
epiphany and discovery of something greater than themselves and so, I suppose in the end,
it’s not a surprise that everybody knows it, that everybody knows the song. EW: But does it’s surprising origin affect
how you sing it or give it special meaning to you? JN: Well, I’ve decided and I haven’t had interview
musicologists Miss Andre [chuckle] to tell me differently but I’ve decided that some
of the people in the bowels of that ship were from West Africa. ‘Amazing Grace’ is in what we call common
meter which in Africa, It’s three, four times. Can it be that this person heard people trying
to sing themselves through the horror of being in the bowels of that ship? There’s no real explanation from where the
tune has originated. There’s all kind of emphasis and information
about where it probably came from. I think it came from the bottom of the ship
and that the people there were trying to sing themselves through this horror with music
from west Africa which very often is in three four time, isn’t it Miss Andre. [chuckle] EW: You’ve said that opera came into your
life when your parents gave you a radio for your own bedroom and this was when you were
around 9 or 10 years old and you discovered the Metropolitan Opera, Saturday afternoon
broadcast. JN: By accident, really. EW: ‘Cause you had to stay in your room on
Saturday afternoons and clean, ’cause you were a good kid. What did you make of the opera when you were
so young? JN: Well, I tell the story all the time because
I really came across the opera by accident. I was trying to find something on the radio
to accompany the chore of cleaning my room, which was not a chore at all. I was just being stupid and I came across
the opera and I didn’t know exactly what it was except it was important grown-up music
and I was very taken with the fact that the announcer could explain to you what was going
on, what everything on the stage looked like, what the singers looked like and in which
language they were singing and since Milton Cross, the announcer told us everything that
was happening, I didn’t find it difficult at all to listen to an entire Opera in Italian. JN: It never occurred to me that I needed
to know Italian or that I needed to know anything about opera in order to appreciate what was
going on. Roberta Peters was a fantastic singer. I didn’t care whether or not I understood
every word of Caro nome, I do now but I didn’t at the time and it didn’t matter because I
felt quite comfortable in my room taking as long as it took to clean my room as the opera
lasted. It was just true… Well, the Wagner operas were the best. EW: Very thorough cleaning. JN: Except for Das Rheingold, that must have
been a whizz. That’s too short. That’s not enough time. EW: But operas are full of stories that we
think of as adult themes of murder, lust, madness, fidelity, war. I mean the music isn’t always melodic. There are sometimes long recitatives. What did your 9 or 10-year-old sensibility
make of that? JN: Well, since I watched Gunsmoke… [laughter] JN: No truly, seriously. I didn’t think there was anything different
about what’s happening in Carmen and what’s happening to… What’s her name? Who was Gunsmoke’s… You know, sort of Matt Dillon… Who was the woman who played the… What’s her name? EW: Apparently, it was Kitty. JN: Kitty, exactly. Kitty had a hard time. It wasn’t as quite as bad as Carmen but you
know, she was the star of Gunsmoke. No, but I… Because I grew up between two boys so I had
a lot of experiences of looking at some cowboys and that sort of thing with them and so the
idea of a murder taking place on the stage when I knew it wasn’t true and that nobody
was really hurt because they had to sing the next Saturday as well. It didn’t disturb me at all. Anyway, in my 9 or 10-year-old mind, I wasn’t
thinking about it in any deep fashion at all except that it was beautiful music and I loved
it. EW: Were there any operas that made a special
impression on you? EW: Lucia di Lammermoor made a special impression
on me because and I’ve been looking for this children’s… Well it’s a cartoon that I’d seen on television
where they had done the sextet and I loved it so much, I thought that’s very… “I think that’s opera music” I said at the
time. And then not too long after that, Lucia di
Lammermoor was on the Radio and I said, “I knew I’d heard that song before.” And I’ve stayed with it. It’s been in my mind forever and every time
I could see a performance of that I’ve done it. So I’ve seen it with a lot of singers, the
least of whom was Joan Sutherland, my goodness. She could out-sing a piccolo on any day. [laughter] JN: Well you know she could. EW: Jessye Norman, you took piano lessons
as a child and I think you once said that you and all your sibs were sent off for piano
lessons as soon as you could walk. You clearly loved to sing and you were good
at it but how come no singing lessons? JN: Well, I think that’s just a game, just
the luck of the draw. I think when I first started taking piano
lessons, I didn’t enjoy it very much. I didn’t really sort of like my teacher very
much but then I was able to change my teacher and then it became enjoyable to practice and
to go to my piano lessons and I think that my parents didn’t want me to not enjoy singing. So even though it would have been a very bad
thing, for me to have had voice lessons so early in my life because and listen to this
youngsters, particularly for women, you should not study voice. You should not study singing, until after
puberty. The muscles that you use at the core of your
body are not developed enough for supporting your singing. JN: So take dance, gymnastics, anything that
you can take to build strength in your body and then long about age 15-16, you can start
very gently with singing lessons but to do that beforehand, it is not very wise. I have not come across anyone in nearly 50
years of performing where a person started voice lessons at 10 and is still singing at
25. EW: Even though you were singing… JN: The muscles are simply not ready for it. EW: Even though you were singing at a very
young age? JN: Oh yes, but I could sing quite naturally,
absolutely. EW: That’s fine. That’s fine. JN: But I wasn’t doing anything that any other
child wouldn’t do. I could just do it louder that’s all. [laughter] JN: No, truly. Talking about singing, when I was in middle
school we were very lucky. We had a brand new school. Here we are in the segregated South with a
brand new school with a fantastic chemistry department and a biology lab and all the rest
of it and we had not only the choir but we had the madrigal singers and so I was in the
choir but I wasn’t in the madrigal singers and I thought, “Well, why don’t I try out
for the madrigal singers?” So in my wisdom, I went along to try out for
the madrigal singers. And Miss Hobson said, “You can’t try out for
the madrigal singers.” And I said, “Well, why not?” She said, “I could only hear you when the… ” And so I said, “Well, they need to sing
louder.” [laughter] JN: I mean, what’s the problem? Nobody talked to me about blending… [laughter] JN: And maybe sort of singing quietly with
other people and so when I went home and said to my parents, “I wasn’t invited to sing in
the madrigal singers.” And I said, “They really ought to sing louder.” I wasn’t at all upset, I just thought they
didn’t know what they were doing. [laughter] JN: It helps to be really naïve and I’m a
little bit arrogant. [laughter] EW: Your piano teacher recognized your vocal
talent and she suggested that you enter the Marian Anderson vocal competition in Philadelphia
when you were 15 or almost 16. You didn’t win but the experience opened the
door to your musical education at Howard University. JN: It certainly did. EW: What happened? JN: Well, after the contest was over, I didn’t
know that at that time, the age group for the competition was 16 to 30 so needless to
say, there were a lot of people that had a lot more experience than this kid who was
almost 16 but the experience was a good one. The people were very kind and said, “After
you’ve had a few voice lessons come back and sing for us.” JN: But we were in Philadelphia and traveling
on the train and both my teacher, Rosa Sanders and I had relatives in Washington and it was
the weekend so there’s no point rushing back to all that stuff, we didn’t have to do school
or something and so we stopped in Washington and it happened that at Howard University,
one of the deans had been the president of Paine College in Augusta where my coach and
my teacher had gone to college. So she knew this so she called him just out
of the blue to say hey we were in town and could we come up to the school. So we did. JN: We went up to Howard and met the people
in the School of Music and met the Dean, who was now the Associate Dean in the School of
Music at Howard and so he said, “There’s a Pedagogy class for master’s students going
on has who’s being taught by Carolyn Grant, who’s the head of the Voice Department. So why don’t we go up and see if you can sing
for her?” And I thought “Well, why not?” At the time I didn’t know that I needed to
warm up and get ready for singing. [laughter] JN: I just sang whenever it was possible and
so we went up to her classroom and we were standing outside the door waiting for the
class to be finished and there was a piano in the room where she was teaching and the
master students came out and what I know who was this kid standing at the door and heaven
knows how I was dressed and so at some point, Carolyn Grant beckoned us into the room and
she said “Now, how old do you and what are you going to do?” And so I said, “I’m nearly 16.” And so she invited me to sing what I had sung
in Washington and she listened and was very kind and dismissed the class, those who had
remained to listen to me and she walked out of the classroom and she said, she asked “Are
you doing well in high school?” And of course, being me I said “Oh yes. I’m on the Dean’s list.” And so she said, “Well, finish high school
and I’m going to see to it that you come to Howard University and I’m going to teach you.” JN: So it was her doing that go me a full
tuition scholarship to go to Howard University and I studied with her for four years. In fact, I studied with her until she passed
away in 1979. EW: Now, you did win, I know you didn’t win
the competition, in Philadelphia. JN: No, I didn’t. I didn’t win anything at all. EW: But you did win an international vocal
competition in Munich while you were still a graduate student at the University of Michigan
and then you were invited to perform at an audition in New York for European opera directors
and that’s when and that’s where the Deutsche Oper Berlin invited you to sing the role of
Elizabeth in Wagner’s Tannhauser. JN: Tannhauser, yeah. EW: So here you were, you’re 23, making your
opera debut in a lead role, singing Wagner in Berlin. How did you handle the pressure? JN: Well, I was so excited that I didn’t have
any pressure. I’d studied conversational German for five
months every single day at Duke University because I didn’t know whether or not people
in Berlin could speak English and I needed to be able to talk with them. After all, I was singing a German role in
a German opera house in a German opera so I thought I need to be able to communicate
and so I had conversational German every, every day. So when I arrived at least I could speak to
people. JN: You have to understand that I was singing
my very first role as a professional singer. Well I was, yes. I was singing my first opera role on the stage
ever, as a professional and I was singing Elizabeth in Tannhauser, which is a beautiful
role but I think a person a little bit older than I would have been daunted and afraid. This was an adventure for me. I was so excited and having been invited there,
I didn’t know what was going to happen. I just knew that I had studied my music and
I certainly knew it. At the time and I tell the joke all the time,
I didn’t know you didn’t have to know everybody else’s part in the opera. [laughter] JN: So I’d been very busy preparing. Who knew? [laughter] JN: And it happened, which is completely outrageous. Elizabeth in Tannhäuser comes into the opera
in the second act and this is a big opera, Dich teure Halle is a beautiful aria and then
there’s a wonderful duet and she’s in love with Tannhäuser, who’s up to no good as usually
in these operas and after the second act, Egon Seefehlner, who was the man who was the
person who invited me to the opera and who was head of the opera house came to me in
the interval, I still had to sing the third act and he came to me and said, “This is going
very well. I’d like to offer you a contract to come to
sing in the opera house for three years.” And I thought, “Really?” And I said to him… And I say this over and over again, “But I
haven’t sung the third act.” [laughter] JN: And he said, “That’s alright, that’s the
aria I heard you sing in New York. That’s why you got the job.” But it was my good fortune to be able to go
from being a student in Michigan to being a member of the ensemble in Berlin. I mean, it’s just crazy. EW: It’s extraordinary but I wanna ask a little
more about the preparation ’cause it wasn’t just learning all the roles. I mean, Tannhäuser explores the dichotomy
between flesh and spirit, between the sacred and the profane, redemption through love. You sang the role of the strong, pure and
saintly, Elizabeth. JN: Exactly. EW: How did you approach playing this character? JN: Well, as I had sung the prayer, which
is beautiful, I don’t know if you know it but it’s a beautiful prayer, as I had sung
that several times and did this for Seefehlner who invited me to the opera to do this, I
was very aware of her saintliness and her purity as opposed to the other female character
in the opera, Venus, who really, she was something. EW: Well, she’s the temptation, the seductress,
yeah. JN: She’s the temptress and then the profane
in the opera who seduces Tannhäuser and off he goes and so I was prepared, I guess, in
my mind for what I knew what was going to happen before I had learned the second act
so I had sung the prayer, Elizabeth’s gebet several times before I learned Dich teure
Halle and so, I was already very much involved in the part because I started from the back. I started from where she ends up rather than
from where she starts. EW: We have where she starts. We have the aria from Tannhäuser from the
beginning of act two, this is Elizabeth’s greeting. Here’s Jessye Norman with the London Philharmonic
conducted by Klaus Tennstedt. JN: Oh my goodness. [music] [applause] [chuckle] JN: Thank you. EW: Jessye Norman singing Dich teure Halle
from Richard Wagner’s opera… I’m gonna do that again. [chuckle] JN: That’s the first thing that Elisabeth
sings. Anybody with any sense would have been terrified
but I just said, “Oh gosh, this is wonderful. Oh, I’m gonna sing this thing on stage with
an orchestra and everybody in a costume.” [laughter] JN: And I’m almost 24, la-la. EW: And watching you listen to it, you mouth
the words, you move your hands, you close your eyes. Elisabeth has such joy at Tannhäuser’s return. Do you feel that, you inhabit that when you
hear it? JN: Oh, absolutely. She’s just beside herself that he’s there
again. When he was away, she says in that aria that
everything was dark and dreary. Now, he’s back and now everything’s going
to be wonderful and the hall of song is gonna be filled again with music and this is wonderful. I say hello to you, I greet you, I welcome
you. Absolutely. EW: Jessye Norman with me on stage at the
Toronto Reference Library. She’s my guest on Writers and Company on CBC
Radio One, on SiriusXM Radio and around the world on I’m Eleanor Wachtel. Jessye Norman, what are the vocal demands
of singing the role of Elizabeth? JN: The vocal demands. I think the vocal demands are the same for
me, whether I’m singing for a group of 30 people or singing for a group of 3,000 because
on any occasion I want to do what is possible on that particular day so I try not to allow
the occasion of the signing to overpower the thought that I have to perform. Whether I’m privileged in singing for a presidential
inauguration or for the Queen’s birthday or whatever, I try not to think about that too
much and just do what it is I’m supposed to do. JN: I have to run back again to this whole
thing of Berlin and Tannhäuser. When I was at Howard University, there was
a production of Fidelio, concert version and the choir from Howard University was asked
to be the choir in Fidelio. Now, the person who was singing Florestant
was a man called Hans Beirer and Hans Beirer was Tannhäuser when I sang in Berlin. It was absurd. JN: So I could have been completely overcome
by the fact that this and it was an incredible voice, Hans Beirer. I could have been completely overcome by the
fact that I was going to sing with him, not only just to sing this role but I’ve been
blessed with so many occasions that if I were to think about them beforehand and concentrate
on the fact that this is this kind of thing, I don’t think I’d be able to sing at all. So I have to put that aside and do the work,
whether it’s singing for a blessed person that’s passed on or whether it’s for some
marvelous thing like Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday. EW: Why do you think your voice is so well
suited to Wagner’s music? JN: I think it’s well-suited to Wagner’s music. I have… From Carolyn Grant, I had a very classical
vocal training which means that she took my three different voices and tried to help me
to understand to use all of the voice that I had equally. EW: Explain the three. JN: Yes. How can I explain that? For the singers in the audience, you know
what I mean, that you have a low voice, you have a voice in the middle and then you have
a top voice and when I started with Carolyn Grant, as I’d never had a voice lesson before,
I had three voices; I could sing very high, I could sing in the middle, I could sing very
low and what I had to learn was to integrate these three things into one voice and because
she never let me, she’d been teaching… Carolyn Grant had been teaching voice for
45 years before I got to her and on the first day, she said, “Now, don’t try any tricks
because I know them all and we’re going to learn how to sing properly.” JN: And I think because of that kind of training,
that I’ve been able to sing these roles and not end up not being able to sing. I haven’t over-taxed my voice because I’ve
been everyday, whenever it was, whether for 30 or 3,000, singing with support. I talk about this all the time, don’t I, singing
students? EW: But you have an unusual range. JN: I have an unusual range and that’s just
a gift. We have to understand that we are born with
our… We are already born with the timbre of our
voices. What we can do with training is to change
the color and if we’re very clever, we learn how to support our voices and it’s important
for us to understand the physiology of singing, what is going on in your body when you’re
actually taking a breath and making a sound and I do feel that if we’re more comfortable
with understanding the anatomy of our bodies, that we’re more comfortable singing and I
say this certainly to vocal students and those of you that are professional, that we know
on those days when you’re just not feeling like it, when for some reason you didn’t sleep
well or you ate something that disturbed your stomach and you’re worried about how it’s
going to sound. JN: If you understand how your voice is produced,
then you know that you’re gonna get something that you can use and it might not be what
you would prefer and it might not be your brightest hour but you’ll still be able to
do it and I think it’s important to understand that and to know that it’s our responsibility
to understand that and that maybe we shouldn’t wait for somebody else to tell us. Maybe we have to go to an anatomy class and
understand, now where in the world is that thing called the xiphoid process? Where is the diaphragm? How does that inflate the lungs? Where is the trachea? Where are the vocal cords in your throat? And I think that if we have this idea that
becomes a bit clearer as to exactly what singing is all about. EW: Now, you were gonna be a doctor, right? JN: I thought I was gonna be a doctor, yeah. EW: No, I mean, the anatomy lessons. [laughter] JN: Yeah. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I’m more interested
in it than some people I guess. I don’t know… EW: You were the first African-American to
be cast in the role of Elizabeth, as opposed to the sensual temptress Venus and perhaps
still the only one to play Elizabeth or certainly I do… JN: Well, I’m not happy to say that. EW: Similarly, you were the first Elsa in
Lohengrin, you were the first Öglinda in Die Walküre, Isolda in Tristan and Isolde,
why do you think that is? JN: Well, I can’t say why that is except that,
I had the experience of starting my professional life in the Opera House in Berlin where I
heard a lot of music of course in German but in the opera house when I started there, imagine
there were 80 operas in the repertoire. So in the course of the year, 80 different
operas were performed. I had a great deal of experience just my first
year in listening to opera and I went every night because I was soaking it all up and
learning so much but why there are not more African-Americans singing Wagner, I didn’t
know, it might have something to do with the fact that Wagner probably isn’t that happy
that I’m singing Wagner. He wasn’t exactly an open spirit. [laughter] JN: And so, maybe that… EW: But he should be grateful, I think. JN: Well, I don’t know about that part but
I do know that he had some issues I think, we say and they were rather large ones and
it could be that that perhaps influences people not to come to his music. I don’t know, I can’t say. That’s an interesting question, I’ll have
to investigate that. EW: Do you think there are roles that you
weren’t offered? In a way you don’t know what you didn’t get
but do you think you encountered discrimination as a performer? JN: It would be disingenuous for me to pretend
that that was not the case. I don’t happen to know which operas I was
going to be asked to do until somebody… Let me explain again. Do you know that I was invited… Let me think what happened, let me get this
together ’cause I haven’t been aware of this story in a very long time but there was a
person who had not seen me perform on stage; this is a journalist in Germany with whom
I did an interview on the phone and she called me back some days later to say “Oh, my goodness! I didn’t know you were African-American.” and I said “And?” [laughter] [foreign language] JN: But, I’m sure that there were occasions
like this woman where people simply had no idea and listening to the recordings that
they’d never seen me perform and I would not doubt that there were occasions when I might
have been as it were up for a part that was not offered to me because of being African-American. It’s just that I happened not to know which
they were but it would be silly for me to pretend that that’s not the case or that that
wasn’t the case. EW: You were mentioning your vocal training
at Howard University and Carolyn Grant helping you with breath and control and anatomy, you
had to develop the technique but what about the more emotional side of singing, was that
something you had to learn? JN: I had to learn to take a lot of it out. [laughter] JN: That was one of the things that Prof.
Grant said all the time; that, there is no point in your your being in tears on stage,
you have to bring that emotion to the audience and you have to work out how to do that. You want them in the middle of [0:50:00] ____
of Marla to think, “I can’t hear another part of this. This is too awful, we’re talking about dying
children.” But you have to sing the song. You have to explain the emotion, you have
to have the audience to feel the emotion by the color in your voice. [0:50:19] ____ “I shouldn’t have sent the
children out, otherwise they would still be alive now. It’s my fault that they’re dead.” JN: But you have to bring the audience to
that feeling because your being in tears on stage just really stops the show. It doesn’t… That’s not why you’re there. You’re meant to impart emotion, whether it’s
laughter or gaiety or sadness. As an actor, as an opera singer that is what
we’re supposed to be doing. EW: I had the good fortune to sit in on the
master class that you gave yesterday and you said, “We just have to think the story and
our body and voice will do the rest.” JN: Yes, I really do feel that. I really do feel that if you’re thinking of
a sunny day where the sun is on your face and you really… It’s the most wonderful day in the world,
that shows on you face, that shows in your voice. [foreign language] JN: How can you sing that with your face sort
of when you’re saying, “Oh, please come this beautiful summer evening.” How can you say that with a downward look
on your face? Or if you’re singing another song of Marla… [foreign language] JN: “I am finished with the world. There’s no reason to be here anymore.” You can’t sing that with a smile on your face,
not if you know what you’re doing. It happened to be that I was invited to do
a master class and this wasn’t something that I wanted to do at all because, I don’t speak
Russian so therefore, I was uncomfortable being invited to give a master class in Russia
but anyway, there was meant to be somebody translating for me but to have somebody translating,
you’re trying to help somebody with something that is coming out of their body. It’s just too difficult. I would never agree to do it again but, in
the course of the afternoon, there was a young woman who was singing. [foreign language] JN: And she was smiling. I said, “No. No. No. No.” [laughter] JN: Let us get the text in Russian so that
you know what it is you’re singing because if you’re singing about this incredible death,
you can’t smile but she didn’t know the words, she didn’t know… She didn’t understand the text. So she… [foreign language] JN: No. Let us look at this differently and once she
did and once she understood it’s really true and we didn’t have time to work through the
whole aria but when she understood what she was saying, her whole demeanour changed and
I say all the time, “Let’s not sing the language we haven’t studied, singers.” Please, let’s not do that because I think
that we would give them a misinterpretation and a misunderstanding of what we’re doing. EW: But you were very assiduous. Someone can sing an aria and then read a translation
so they know what the words are but you’re so assiduous that you wouldn’t sing in a language
that you didn’t know. JN: Yes. EW: I mean you’ve studied, first German and
then what, French, Italian. JN: Italian, yeah and I had to learn to read
Hungarian because I was going to record Bluebeard and singing with other Hungarian singers,
I… EW: It’s authored by Bartok. JN: Didn’t want to make a fool of myself. Yeah Bartok, exactly and so at the time, I
had a Hungarian teacher in Europe because I was working a great deal there but I also
had a Hungarian teacher in New York but we were working from the same book so they knew
where I was, the two teachers knew where I was in my preparation and I was very glad
to do that. I can read Hungarian, I can’t speak it. It’s one of the few languages that I’ve studied
where it isn’t organized at all. [laughter] JN: The way romance language is organized. Anybody who speaks Hungarian or Russian know
this is the truth. I mean you don’t know where the subject is,
where’s the verb, where is the adverb, it’s all very, very different and it was a challenge
but I just felt so much better about it. Knowing that I could say the word that comes
up a lot, Bluebeard. [foreign language] JN: To be able to say that properly and not
do an approximation just because I’m American. EW: What does it mean? JN: It means Bluebeard. EW: Oh. [laughter] JN: We say that rather a lot. That… [foreign language] [laughter] EW: See how it goes to show how strange Hungarian
is though. [laughter] EW: Jessye Norman with all your early success
in Europe and then back in the States, you didn’t make your debut with Metropolitan Opera
until like 1982, ’83. JN: ’83. EW: ’83 and you sang, the role of Cassandra
and Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens and you say this is after but this happened after about
a decade of having been considered for various roles there. JN: Yes. EW: What happened? Did you mind not performing there before or… JN: Oh I didn’t mind at all, I was thank goodness,
very, very, very busy and the things for which I was… The roles that I was offered, I said I didn’t
want to make my debut at the opera house singing that. EW: Like what? JN: Well I preferred not because of the people
sang them that I wouldn’t… [laughter] EW: Even now, they would know 35 years later
that, yeah. JN: Well you know… It’s a bit awkward. [laughter] JN: So why not sing opening night at the 100th
anniversary season, why not? But the things that had been offered to me
before where I didn’t feel were suitable at all and I was very happy to do Cassandra which
I had done in Paris and in Covent Garden and it turned out that I got to sing the two roles,
Cassandra and Dido in the same evening and that’s quite a thing to do. EW: Yeah. Apart from dying twice. JN: Yes, apart from dying twice, yes. [laughter] EW: How difficult was that? JN: Well it was very difficult because they
are two completely different characters. Here you have this almost sorcerous person
Cassandra singing, then you have this classically wonderful Dido in the next part of the opera. It was a challenge but it was one that I wanted
very much to do the two parts and James Levine said, “No sing Cassandra first and then get
used to being on the stage and then, perhaps you’ll sing Dido and then back and forth.” And it was only because my dear colleague,
Tatiana Troyanos was not terribly well and so one night I was… I had sung Cassandra. Imagine this, if this ever happened to any
of you other singers. JN: I had sung my part of the Opera, which
was the first part of Les Troyens and I had to stay in the opera house until she started,
Tatiana in the role of Dido because I was covering Dido but once she was on stage then
one could leave and so, I left and was at an apartment that I’d rented in New York with
friends and we were just beginning to order Chinese food for dinner and the phone rang
and it was the opera house and they said, “You have to come back, Tatiana’s not well.” And I said, “Okay.” This is really true. I said to the person on the phone, “Where
are you in the opera?” Meaning, so that I can start, in my mind. He said, “I’m in my office.” [laughter] JN: I said, “Charlie, that wasn’t my question.” “What page are you on?” EW: So it was a good thing that you learnt
all the roles. JN: So I learnt all the roles. So I got a taxi and went back to the Opera
House, made the taxi driver crazy because I had to warm up of course, again. Can you imagine sitting in a taxi warming
up, that poor man, he probably can’t hear to this day. [laughter] JN: But I got to the opera house and my Dido
costume was locked up some place so I had to put on my Cassandra costume and finish
the opera in my Cassandra costume. So get ready for that kind of experience,
singers. It’s not always a smooth run. [chuckle] EW: You’re drawn to operas that present complicated
female characters like Dido or Judith in Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle or the unnamed woman in
Schoenberg’s Erwartung, the woman in La Voix Humaine, the human voice, Poulenc’s opera
based on the John Coctoeau play. These are women who suffer for love, they’re
abandoned, scorned, driven mad but they still have agency. You’ve said that “This kind of complexity
I grab with both hands.” How do you understand these women? JN: Well, I study them very much, I’ve read
the Cocteau play, I can’t tell you how many times I did before doing this on stage and
of course, there’s a wonderful recording that Simone Signoret did for the Radio France and
it is wonderful to listen to that because her louance and her cadence is exactly what
Poulenc did in writing the music and so it was really informative for me to do this. When I was doing Erwartung of Schoenberg for
the first time, I was working in Los Angeles so it was very easy. I went to the University of Southern California
to the collection of Schoenberg and they allowed me to go into the room where all of these
wonderful manuscripts are kept. It was very cold because manuscripts have
to be kept a certain temperature. JN: So somebody brought me a shawl and also
brought me gloves and I was given the letters that Schoenberg wrote to the librettist who
actually was a medical person, her last name was Pappenheim and to be able to… EW: She’s a Viennese physician: Marie Pappenheim. JN: A Viennese physician. Exactly and she was writing back and forth
to Schoenberg about how he should set her text and she would write in the margins of
the text, “What should happen now? How much time the singer should take between
saying this part of the text and going on… ” And I promise you that Schoenberg followed
her every suggestion and they worked in a weighty… Imagine, having to do this via letters back
and forth. They composed this opera in five weeks. It’s incredible and I’m just very glad that
it isn’t longer because I don’t think anybody can get through it. It is really atonal of course and extremely
difficult and is 35 minutes long and thank goodness, it’s 35-minutes. EW: But it’s so intense. JN: It is so intense. EW: You don’t know if this woman has murdered
the man who has left her or has he actually left and abandoned her. I know you like the complexity of it but how
do you… JN: Well, you can at this particular opera
and I wish I could explain it more. I wish I had the text in front of me, I’d
read some of it to you in English but in this particular opera, Erwartung which is a one-person
opera, there isn’t anybody else on stage except this imaginary corpse. Now either she’s committed a murder or she’s
seen a murder committed or the whole thing is happening in her head and because I am
as I am, I liked every night to choose which one I was going to be. [laughter] JN: Can you imagine being that complicated? But I would decide “Okay, tonight I actually
committed the murder.” So I’m going to sing ’cause I’m not interrupting
anybody else on stage. I don’t have to get out of anybody else’s
way. It is interesting for me, perhaps it would
be just… I don’t know what it would be for another
singer and they’re not a great number of us that do this opera anyway but I find it so
interesting to be in my dressing room deciding okay, is this happening in my head tonight
or have I seen it done? Because, it informs how I begin the words. [foreign language] JN: He says, “Here around me, I don’t see
anything. What is that shadow in front of me? Is that a person?” and halfway through the
opera she shouts at the corpse, “For three days you had no time for me. I wanted to see you and you never came. You never had any time.” [foreign language] JN: And so you can either sing that in tears
or you can sing it as a mad woman. Most of the time I sang it as a mad woman. [laughter] EW: You say it with a big smile on your face. [laughter] EW: And, I’m just thinking, a lot of these
parts in La Voix Humanine and Dido, you have to commit suicide too. JN: Yes. Yes. Yes. EW: But you don’t see that as being a victim? JN: Well, I do see it as being a victim. In fact, it’s very interesting. When I did… And it was the… A concert version that I did with a philharmonic
and [1:03:51] ____ in New York. There were a couple of women who came to me,
they were studying American Women’s Literature or something and they take to me to say, “How
can you sing such a victim?” I said, “It’s a play. It’s an opera.” I am not the woman in the Poulenc’s opera. I’m singing about her and the production that
we did in Paris which we also did in Tokyo, was that instead of my having to put a dagger
to my chest or something, the whole stage becomes red, at the point that she dies. It’s an amazing sight. I hope that we… We have filmed it. Now, we’re still waiting for the rights from
NHK, the Japan television station to have it because I would like my American friends
to see that because I didn’t do that production here and it really was… JN: It’s really quite something because there’s
a lot of white on the stage and the way the lights were done from the back and as well
from the front. At the time that she, “It’s all too much,”
and she knows that this person on the end of the phone… If there’s actually anybody on the end of
the phone, is never coming. He’s left and that’s it and so the only thing
that she can do like Dido and [1:05:08] ____ and all these other fantastic women in opera
is to die. So instead of falling down or something like
that, the director had me simply to sit on the sofa and the whole stage become red and
it becomes dark and the curtain comes down. JN: It’s quite something. EW: You’ve always been open to working with
living composers, new productions and innovative theater directors. I’m thinking in terms of a Japanese production,
you had some interesting and challenging experiences with for instance, Julie Taymor and this is… She’s famous but she hadn’t quite yet staged
‘The Lion King’ but she directed you as Jocasta in a production of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex
but you say she wanted you to wear puppet hands. JN: Yes and that was the first time I would
sing with my hands covered. I thought I wouldn’t be able to sing at all
with my hands covered but once she showed me how affective this could be then I was
comfortable with it but she talked me into doing a lot of things like coming down the
stairs backwards or there’s a moment in the upper window castor, another person who dies. There was a disc on which I was meant to fall
and the disc would rise four storeys into the air into the heavens of the Opera House
and I wasn’t keen to do that and so I had when I was shown how this was meant to work,
I asked four of the stage hands to get on to the disc and let me see if it actually
worked which they were very kind because they knew that it was completely safe and so I
would do this and as I said to the… JN: I think it was the tip-top I had, I’ll
just close my eyes because this was not something that I was comfortable in doing at all but
it was dramatic and it really, really did work and if you see the film you see that
it did work very well but I wasn’t anxious to do that. EW: Did you get a seat belt or something? JN: Well, yes, oh yes, I was tied down. No truly, it was completely safe I couldn’t
roll off or anything like that. EW: And you performed in a Robert Wilson production
in Paris in 1982 called ‘Great Day in the Morning’ and the piece is about spirituals
and how they were created through the lives of slaves and Wilson staged ‘Amazing Grace’
with a powerful visual effect, can you describe what you had to do while you were singing? JN: At the end of this production which was
to show to an audience that spirituals were not composed, that they were created in the
course of living and so that is what we did, we showed people doing housework or as they’re
working in the field and creating a spiritual and being very clever and using a spiritual
to for instance to pass a communication that it wouldn’t be safe to meet under the oak
tree and to have a prayer meeting that night so the song ‘I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray’
is not what you think. That was telling people in another plantation
not to come, the overseers are going to be there tonight so stay where you are and you
think that they had to be incredibly intelligent people writing these and curating these songs. JN: At the end, Bob Wilson wanted me to sing
‘Amazing Grace’ and we were doing this at the [1:08:34] ____ has a very wide not very
deep but a very long, wide stage and I had to learn to do this. Imagine having to take six minutes, six full
minutes to walk from the wings to the center of the stage, there was a podium that was
plexiglass I guess it must have been full of light on which there was a picture that
looks not very much unlike this one, full of water and by the time I started to walk
very slow and you have to learn to walk that slowly and not shake and so I had to know
and also to hold the scapula in my shoulder really very tightly so that one could pour
a pitcher full of water without shaking and I had to do this while singing and so I had
to time it so that ‘Amazing Grace’ would be finished by the time the last drop of water
came out of the picture. JN: We rehearsed that a few times but it was
a wonderful, wonderful discipline and it was an incredible thing to see. The audience was sometimes agitated because
they wanted a bit more kind of oomph I think in the performance and at the end, it was
amazing because there was certainly, after performance imagine this, a full minute or
more of complete silence, nobody did anything and by this time ’cause being Robert Wilson,
who was alive and was incredible, by this time there was only light on my hand, on the
picture, everything else was completely in darkness and it was certainly a minute or
so before the light went from my hand. JN: It was only after that that there was
any kind of reaction from the audience but it was quite, working with people who don’t
take any notice of the fact that you are an opera singer and that perhaps you haven’t
done this before, they just ask you to do what they like and either it’s suitable or
not but I’ve been very lucky in working with people. EW: Oh, you’ve been very game I think as well. JN: Yes and I’m willing to try. It might not always be something suitable
but I’m willing to try it if it’s not completely outrageous. EW: Jessye Norman, much as you’re identified
with Opera, the Concert Hall has also been a significant part of your performing career
and you’re known for your interpretation of German leader and particularly Richard Strauss’
Four Last Songs, why does Strauss’ music have a special place in your repertoire? JN: The music, that’s easy. The music of Strauss has a special place for
me because he truly knew how to write for the female voice la, la, la. EW: Cause he was married to one. JN: He was married to one, absolutely. So there are so many songs that you know that
he wrote with a voice in mind and a female voice in mind and so it’s a pleasure to sing
these wonderful long praises of his because he’s thought about it, isn’t just something
that came into his head and he wrote it down and maybe it’s for a tenor, maybe it’s for
a baritone no, he was writing for soprano and it’s a joy to sing that music, it truly
is. EW: And Strauss’ Four Last Songs, he composed
it during the last year or two? JN: The last few years his life as it turned
out, yes. EW: And he used four different poems; one
by Joseph von Eichendorff and three by Hermann Hesse. Which of these poems speaks most directly
to you? JN: Of course they all do, they speak very,
very strongly to me, the one… I wouldn’t say that I like most but the one
that gives me so much joy to sing is Beim Schlafengehen, which is the third song in
the group, the way it’s a arranged now. The thought of accepting the end of life with
joy and rather than being a dramatic and unpleasant event, you’re simply floating into the next
life, which is not necessarily a German thought. This is a more, from a culture in Asia, that
you look at death in a different light, as a welcoming thing rather than something that
is ending something. JN: But that let’s you understand that there
is another existence that awaits you and I think that’s one of the reasons that just
to hear the cello, the dark strings to begin that song, is something that is almost unbearable. It’s really… It’s wonderful. It is just truly and it was so… I just think that’s some of his best music
and of course he didn’t know that he was writing near the end of his life but that’s the way
it turned out. EW: It’s interesting mentioning this because
Hesse’s famous for Siddhartha among other books that were very taken up in the late
’60s: Steppenwolf and so the idea’s the sensibility. JN: Yes, yes, yes. Absolutely. Absolutely and of course there was a time,
I’m sure some of you might remember when Hermann Hesse was all the rage in the ’60s for those
of us who were flower children and we were taking those poems to heart and they translated
rather well I think into English and the depth of feeling and the depth of understanding
of nature is something that I think that appealed to us in English in the ’60s thinking about
these wonderful poems and embracing that particular poet and writer. EW: You’re in Toronto now because of the Glenn
Gould Prize, an international award for… I’m quoting, “A unique lifetime contribution
that has enriched the human condition through the arts.” And previous… [applause] EW: Previous winners are an elite and eclectic
group: Oscar Peterson, Pierre Boulez, Leonard Cohen, Philip Glass, Yo-Yo Ma, Yehudi Menuhin,
to name just part of the series of laureates but you’re the first woman. JN: I’m the first woman, what have you people
been doing? [laughter] [applause] EW: How does that make you feel? I mean, it’s… JN: Well, I didn’t know that I was the first
woman till after I’d been told that I’d won the prize but I think that it’s timely certainly
this year, the ‘Me Too’ movement and all the rest of it, I think it fits right in. Thank you Glenn Gould Foundation. [applause] EW: It’s such an honor and a pleasure to have
the chance to talk to you. Thank you very much. JN: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure. [applause] JN: Thank you. [applause] JN: Thank you very much. [applause] JN: Thank you. Thank you so much. [applause]

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  1. Music and beauty ran through Jessye Norman's veins. She was a living Legend and I was privileged and fortunate to hear her sing.

  2. I love Ms Jessye Norman's Life Story…I am so glad she shared it with everyone…and thank you for sharing this video…a sense of humour….Yes, she does!

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