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Soprano Norman to Address Graduates

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The final Commencement speaker of the James Moeser administration is, like Moeser, a musical artist.

Soprano Jessye Norman, one of America’s most celebrated performers, will address the class of 2008 on May 11 in Kenan Stadium.

Moeser met Norman when they both were inducted as fellows into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences earlier this fall.

“Jessye Norman is one of the world’s greatest voices,” Moeser said. “I have heard her speak and perform passionately. The perspective she will bring about the role of the arts in our world today is a very important one for our graduates to consider as they leave Carolina.

“We are proud of how the arts and humanities help anchor the high-quality liberal arts education that Carolina provides to students. Jessye Norman’s appearance will help put an exclamation point on the progress we have made in elevating the profile of these important attributes of a Carolina education.”

The chancellor chooses the Commencement speaker in consultation with a speaker advisory committee.

Norman has been described as “one of those once-in-a-generation singers who is not simply following in the footsteps of others, but is staking out her own niche in the history of singing.” She is known for bringing her joy of singing and passion to recital performances, operatic portrayals and appearances with symphony orchestras and chamber music collaborators to audiences around the world. The size, power and luster of her voice share equal acclaim with her music-making, innovative programming of the classics and fervent advocacy of contemporary music.

Norman’s performances are often characterized similarly to the way they were in a New York Times article that said, “This is an amazing voice, a catalogue of all that is virtuous in singing.” The Jerusalem Post has reported, “The immensity of her voice struck like a thunderbolt. … It was like an eruption of primal power.”

In 2003, the Jessye Norman School of the Arts in her hometown of Augusta, Ga., opened its doors to talented middle school students for studies in music performance, drama, dance and art. The students attend this after-school program tuition-free. A fellowship and master class series established in her name recently at the University of Michigan School of Music further attest to Norman’s encouragement and support of emerging talent.

Norman has received numerous awards and honors. In 1997, at age 51, she was selected to become the youngest recipient of the highest award in U.S. performing arts, the Kennedy Center Honor. Her other distinctions include honorary doctorates at about 30 colleges, universities and conservatories around the world.  In 1984 the French government bestowed upon her the title Commandeur de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and the National Museum of Natural History in Paris named an orchid for her.

In 1989 she was awarded the Legion d’Honneur by French President Mitterand, and in 1990 she was named honorary ambassador to the United Nations by U.N. Secretary Xavier Perez de Cuellar. Norman was awarded the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal in 2000 to recognize her humanitarian and civic contributions.

Beside her busy performance schedule, Norman serves on the boards of directors for The New York Public Library, The New York Botanical Garden, Citymeals-on-Wheels in New York City, the Dance Theatre of Harlem and Howard University. She is a member of the board as well as national spokesperson for the Lupus Foundation and national spokesperson for The Partnership for the Homeless. In Augusta, Ga., she serves on the Board of Trustees of Paine College and The Augusta Opera Association. A relentless Girl Scout cookie seller, she is a lifetime member of the Girl Scouts of America.

In 2006, Norman became only the fourth opera/classical music singer in the history of the Grammy Awards to be presented the Lifetime Achievement Award for Classical Music.

Norman was named a “Living Landmark of New York City” by the Landmarks Conservancy and was awarded the Nelson A. Rockefeller Award for artistic achievement by the State University of New York’s Purchase College.


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