In November 1983, Jessye Norman appeared at the Kentucky Center for the Arts—an accomplished star contributing to the Center’s gala opening. This week, roughly 31 years later, Norman returned to the Kentucky Center as part of the Kentucky Author Forum, discussing her new memoir, “Stand Up Straight and Sing!” with Gloria Steinem, the noted lecturer, editor and activist.
Norman is acknowledged as one of the world’s most beautiful voices and one of the most versatile concert and operatic singers of her time. Her accolades and awards include five Grammys, 38 honorary doctorates from institutions around the world, and a Kennedy Center Honor. In her new memoir, she discusses the world of opera, but also dives into a broader range of topics: family, travel, art, race, mentorship and more.
The full interview audio can be streamed below. Here are a few excerpts:
I want to get across that, as an African-American, there isn’t a station that one can achieve in life that separates you from being African-American […] but, I am proud of my heritage, I am proud of the strong shoulders on which it is a privilege to stand.
On the value of arts in childhood education:
We know from all the studies that have been done, having to do with the influence of the arts on education and on the children that are exposed to these wonderful opportunities, that every child benefits from the study of the arts, no matter their own socioeconomic standing in the family. It has nothing to do with whether or not they are extremely poor or whether the parents have lots of money, it has nothing to do with that.
On the influence of age on interpreting song or opera:
It’s one thing to sing about love when you’re 30. It’s another thing to sing about love when you’re 57. You’ve had a bit more experience about this. You know a little bit more about it, you have more thought about it, deeper thought about it. And if we’re lucky, a little more experience that will slow that song down a bit and you want to take a little more time with it and not let it go by so quickly. And that is what life teaches us.
Listen to the interview: