Augusta prepares for Jessye Norman homecoming services

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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – As people around the world mourn the loss of international opera star Jessye Norman, Augusta readies itself for a week of homecoming events in her honor.

The world renowned icon died September 30 at the age of 74.

In just a few days, eyes around the world will be on downtown Augusta.

“The expectation of everyone in town was that Ms. Norman would be here,” said long time admirer and Jessye Norman School of the Arts supporter Russell Joel Brown.

It was a voice everyone hoped to hear up close and personal this week in Augusta. Sadly, the world lost the sweet soprano September 30.

Though she appeared larger than life to many, Russell Joel Brown said he knows a more personable woman who lent her gift of voice to the world just like him.

He said, “She was as approachable, regular. I mean she’s a person.”

That person lived an enormous life until the age of 74. Four Grammy Awards, the National Medal of Arts and the Kennedy Center Honor.

The Garden City will host a two-day public viewing at Norman’s home church, Mt. Calvary Baptist. Then on Friday, an honorary street naming ceremony where 8th Street becomes Jessye Norman Boulevard, right next to the school that also bears her name.

“This school, she was always involved,” Brown recalled. “It’s very easy to slap your name on something and walk away. To write a check and walk away. Many people do that. But the mission of the school is too important to her.”

On Saturday, Jessye Norman’s Homecoming Service will take place at the Bell Auditorium. The events wrap up with a benefit concert for The Jessye Norman School of the Arts.

“That is a rare opportunity to see Audra McDonald up close and in person, in the flesh and to hear her glorious voice,” Brown said. “How fitting it is that she would be in town to do this concert and that she will also be performing for the funeral. Then such luminaries as Lawrence Fishburne and Vernon Jordan and all of the people from various arenas whose lives were touched by Jessye Norman.”

Whether you are familiar with Ms. Norman’s work or not, this is certainly an opportunity to become more acquainted with who she was and what she did. You can learn about her life not just as an opera singer, but her life as a humanitarian as well.

No doubt, those who will be here honoring her are more than happy that she’s Augusta’s own.

Photojournalist: Troy Robinson

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