Monday, April 27, 2015

Jessye Norman Talks Racism, President Obama, And Hillary Clinton

Politically Inclined: Soprano Jessye Norman is ready to support Hillary Clinton for 2016. (Photo: Sarah Lee/Guardian)
"Looking back at her childhood, the opera star Jessye Norman says she cannot remember a time she was not trying to sing. 'I liked to put on some of my mother’s costume jewellery and a feather boa or something, and pretend I was some grand singer,' she recalled recently. Today, although Norman no longer performs in full-scale opera, she is solidly established as a 'grande dame'. Last week, Norman, 69, stormed centre-stage once again with some full-throated support for her friend Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid. 'I would certainly support this enormous brain,
The soprano seen here in December 1997 with President 
Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton at the Kennedy
Center Honors during the playing of the National Anthem.
this incredibly generous heart this amazing woman,' she proclaimed. The celebrated soprano’s bold contribution to the presidential race followed fast on her recent public complaint that many attacks on Barack Obama’s record are fuelled by hidden racism. She alleged that 'racialism was practised at the highest levels of government', adding: 'We should be better than that, we should be bigger than that.' For Norman, the culprits are mostly 'on the other side of the aisle' – Republican Congress members who have plotted against President Obama since his inauguration, she claims. If the Democrats felt the lack of a Wagnerian Valkyrie on their side, the role is now filled. And what’s more, they have found someone who can bridge the awkward gap between Ms Clinton’s supporters and Obama’s people. Norman is that rare thing, a prominent member of both camps.....Political awakening came young. While she has described her childhood home in Augusta, Georgia, as 'our little Garden of Eden', her middle-class, church-going family were involved in the civil rights struggle. So Norman and her four siblings were aware, though sheltered from the harsher side of segregation: 'I came from a very strong core of people who told us, practically on a daily basis,
Jessye Norman receiving the 2009 National Medal of Arts
 from President Barack Obama at an East Room ceremony 
at the White House.
that, ‘You are as good as any other of God’s creations, and you will hear something different when you’re outside of this house but know that the truth is here’.' Her first experience of 'American apartheid' came as a five-year-old on a station platform, waiting in her Sunday best for a train to take her to visit relatives in Philadelphia. ;I of course had too much energy to sit there and I saw the sign and it did say ‘whites only’ and I thought, well, there wasn’t anybody sitting there, so what difference would it make if I were to go over there and sit and play? Why would it bother anybody? Of course my mother and father took a different view.' She understood more later when she saw President Eisenhower on one of his regular golfing trips to Augusta. Watching him walk into church, her father informed her they were not allowed to worship in the same place. Later, as an adult, she kept a journal, noting down instances of casual racism. She stopped when it began to depress her: 'It became clear to me after doing this for a while that I wasn’t serving any purpose except to make myself sad.' Further political insight came when she sang in Berlin, regularly passing through Checkpoint Charlie. She was impressed by the love of the arts she found in East Berlin. 'Even though they lived
In 2013, Jessye Norman sang during a ceremony honoring 
the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for U.S. 
Rep. John Lewis, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi,
 and Speaker of the House John Boehner. 
under the oppressive regimes, their spirits were not squelched'....Landmarks of her career include singing at both Ronald Reagan’s and Bill Clinton’s second inaugurations and a recording of Wagner’s Liebestod in the late 1980s. Her farewell performance at the Met in the Makropulos Case was hailed as a great achievement in 1996, but since then she has focused on highly lucrative recitals." [Source] Click here to see a list of other opera singers that have performed at Presidential Inaugurations since 1941. Watch videos of Jessye Norman singing Copland's "Simple Gifts" at the Inauguration of Ronald Reagan in 1985 and a medley of spirituals for the Inauguration of Bill Clinton in 1997. Other political or government-related performances highlighted during her career include singing for Queen Elizabeth II's sixtieth birthday celebration in 1986; performing the French national anthem, 'La Marseillaise,' to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution on July 14, 1989; singing at Tchaikovsky's 150th Birthday Gala in Leningrad in 1990; performing for the 700th Celebration Party of Swiss National Day in 1991; singing at the funeral of former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in 1994; performed at the opening ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, singing "Faster, Higher, Stronger"; On June 28, 2001, she and light lyric coloratura soprano Kathleen Battle performed Vangelis' Mythodea at the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens, Greece; On March 11, 2002, Norman performed "America the Beautiful" at a service unveiling two monumental columns of light at the site of the former World Trade Center, as a memorial for the victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City. [Source]

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