2016 Regions Riding Forward® Winning Essay by Sasha D.

Claimed by The New York Times as “one of those once-in-a-generation singers who is not simply following in the footsteps of others, but is staking out her own niche in the history of singing”, Jessye Norman defies cultural standard. She was born in the southern state of Georgia. At a young age, upon entering a vocal competition in Philadelphia, she was granted a full scholarship to Howard University (a school in which I am proud to say I am accepted into). Once graduating from Howard, she attended the prestigious Peabody Conservatory which is a part of John Hopkins University and later the University of Michigan. As a Grammy award winning opera singer, her vocal range extends to contra-alto to dramatic soprano. In her hometown of Atlanta, once reaching a high level of recognition, Jessye Norman has started a tuition free performing arts after school program named after herself. 

Representation is key to many individuals. As an African American classical musician, Jessye Norman’s ability to be one of the largest voices in the opera world is astounding to me. Not only has she perfected her craft, she has perfected a craft that is seen as a “white woman's” job. I am currently training to be a classical cellist. I attended a public performing arts school where I am surrounded by talented individuals and exposed to extraordinary opportunity. And although I live and work in such a great environment, out of 250 students, African Americans make up 10% of the population. This disheartens me and in retrospect, this will be my fate if I further my studies in classical music. But now, seeing strong Black classical musicians and performers such as Jessye Norman defy gravity with their craft makes me confident in my craft and work. Also just as she has done, I plan to become a teacher a spread my love for music to young performers and encourage students to become patrons for the arts. Inspired by Mrs. Norman, I know have the courage to conquer the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto with confidence. Through the years, I have learned that my music is deeper then my skin complexion and my background. I believe this is a feat that Jessye Norman also had to overcome in order to be successful.


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