Jessye Norman, the renowned international opera star whose passionate soprano voice won her four Grammy Awards, the National Medal of Arts, and the Kennedy Center Honor, has died, according to a family spokesperson. She was 74, the AP reports. A family statement says Norman died from septic shock and multi-organ failure secondary to complications of a spinal cord injury she suffered in 2015. Norman was a trailblazing performer, and one of the rare black singers to attain worldwide stardom in the opera world, performing at such revered houses as La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera, and singing title roles in works like “Carmen,” “Aida,” and more. She sang the works of Wagner, but was not limited to opera or classical music, performing songs by Duke Ellington and others as well.
“I have always been drawn to things other people might consider unusual. … It’s not important to me who has written it. It’s just more reasonable to have an open mind about what beauty is,” Norman said in a 2002 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. Born in 1945 in Augusta, Ga., during segregationist times, she sang in church, studied at Howard University and the Peabody Conservatory, she made her operatic debut in 1969 in Berlin, wowing audiences around the world on stages in Milan, London, and New York thanks to her shining vocals, no matter the language. The New York Times described her voice as “a grand mansion of sound.” Norman also gave back, raising funds to help students attend school, championing the arts in schools, and promoting diversity.