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When it comes to sheer vocal opulence, it's tough to top Jessye Norman. There's a majesty and intimacy in her voice — immense as the Grand Canyon yet warm and confidential. The five-time Grammy winner is one of the most celebrated opera singers of our time. This year she published a memoir called Stand Up Straight and Sing! Last week she sang "Midnight Special" on David Letterman's Late Show and was feted like royalty at the Metropolitan Opera Guild's annual luncheon.
In this informal session of music and conversation, the soprano recalls her childhood in Augusta, Ga., where she found inspiration in an old 78 by the legendary Marian Anderson, whom she later befriended. Norman would go on to launch her career in Germany in the early 1970s, only to take a self-imposed hiatus from the stage to let her young voice mature, then return to triumph in opera houses around the world.
She voices equal enthusiasm for Wagner and Ellington, praises colleagues such as the "delicious" Yo-Yo Ma and describes the act of singing as an out-of-body experience. She has collaborated with choreographers, avant-garde producers and, when pressed, flirts with the idea of trying hip-hop.