Like many of us, I have listened to Jessye Norman sing my entire life. I have written about her for about half my life. I wrote about her this very morning, when writing a New York Philharmonic review. One of the greatest singers who ever lived, she comes up again and again. We will never forget her. Her voice, and her music-making, will never be out of our heads.
She was from Augusta, Georgia. But she spent some time in Ann Arbor, Michigan, my hometown, where she earned a master’s degree from the University of Michigan. One of her teachers was Willis Patterson, whose wife, Frankie, was my high-school math teacher. (Mrs. Patterson is a wonderful woman.)
Very few singers have been as versatile as Jessye Norman. She sang songs and operas of virtually every type—every style, every period, every language. I think my favorite recording of hers, however, is an album of spirituals, which she made in 1979 with the Ambrosian Singers, conducted by Willis Patterson.
During certain stretches of my life, this album has been like medicine. It has a divine, healing quality. I mentioned this once to Thomas Hampson, the American baritone. He said, “You ought to tell her so.” Sometime later, I did.
My favorite track on this album must be “Give Me Jesus.” It might be my favorite track . . . ever. Here it is.
I was at the Metropolitan Opera tonight, where the evening’s performance (Porgy and Bess, as it happened) was dedicated to Norman. Again: one of the greatest singers who ever lived, whose gifts were a gift to others—and remain so.