Jessye Norman on Learning to Stand Up and Sing

Jessye Norman

Opera singer Jessye Norman talks about her childhood and her career in music. As a child she sung in church, but when she saw a documentary about the legendary Marian Anderson, Norman realize that singing could be a profession. She discusses her meteoric rise at the Berlin Opera, long-delayed debut at the Metropolitan Opera, and her forays into spirituals, blues, jazz, and other roots music. Her memoir Stand Up Straight and Sing! is an inspiring account of her life.

In her book Miss Norman writes about her love of Wagner’s operas, which are central to her repertoire, and Leonard said that Wagner may not have been t happy seeing her performing his works because of his ideas about race. “Yes, but that doesn’t disturb me. If I were not able to separate the art from the artists, I think I would limit myself a great deal, and life wouldn’t be nearly as interesting,” she said. “I don’t feel that Wagner needs me, as I always say, to stand up for him. But we understand that his music was appropriated in WWII for reasons that we know. And the person that he was was certainly not an open-hearted human being, but, of course, we know that the music itself was sublime.”