The city of Augusta prepares to say goodbye to opera icon Jessye Norman

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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) — There were only fond memories of Augusta native Jessye Norman.

“When we were growing up, If you would meet her, she would leave a lasting impression on you,” said one of Jessye’s classmates, Joanne Cook-Johnson. “You would like her whether she can sing or not; that’s the impression I got. She was a nice person, and her whole family was nice.”

Norman is being remembered at Mount Calvary Baptist Church, where she first started singing as a child. Dozens of people made their way there to pay their respects.

“I just wanted to come down and peacefully look at her,” said a fan, David Bright Jr. “She looked like herself. I’m delighted with what Augusta is doing for her.”

She grew up in Augusta, but her talents took her all over the globe. She won four Grammy awards and the Kennedy Center Honors. To the world, she was a great opera singer; to Augusta, she was a woman with hopes and dreams who made them come true.

“They’ve enjoyed her talents, we’ve enjoyed the schools,” explained Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. president, Deborah Brown. “She has brought arts in the lives of our children in the area. We are so proud she was a member of our sorority, and that she has given to people all over the world.”

Norman was known not only for her superstar talent but recognized widely for giving back to her community.

“Jessye would be more interested in me and what I was doing,” said Jessye’s childhood friend, Dr. Lula Wright Williams. “She felt like I could read about her, but she wanted to know more about me.”

Her life and legacy will always be remembered where her legendary career began.

“You can come home again, and you can with everybody feeling the same way,” said Williams. “With lots of love, care, and thank you for what you have done.”

The visitation continues tomorrow from 9 am until noon at Mount Calvary. Then the ceremony to rename 8th street, “Jessye Norman Boulevard,” is at 4:30 pm, in front of the Jessye Norman School of the Arts on Greene Street.

The funeral will be on Saturday at the Bell Auditorium at 1 pm. It is open to the public, and doors open at noon. And on Sunday at the Miller Theater, there will be a benefit concert at 4 pm featuring an evening with broadway star, Audra McDonald.

Photojournalist: Will Baker

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