Millions the world over have heard opera superstar Jessye Norman sing, and they have come away richer for the experience. When Norman was named as an Aspen Institute Harman-Eisner Artist in Residence, we also heard her speak a bit. Unsurprisingly, everything that came out of her mouth was golden.
In 2007, she delivered — after a brief bit of her famous soprano — one of the “Big Ideas” at the Aspen Ideas Festival. She spoke about the importance of art in our lives, saying, “Art comes from that part of us that is without fear, prejudice, malice, or any of the other things that we create to separate ourselves one from the other.” Throughout her life, she used that pure power of art to bring us together, to lift up the excluded, and celebrate our “soul’s music.”
While in Aspen, she sat down in a very small room with very poor sound, and she spoke about her art and her life with Anna Deavere Smith. She did not sing a note, but the artistry evident in her passion and outlook left us all as moved as if we’d witnessed her on stage at the Met.
There is a striking bit of resonance in this clip, because the session takes place the day after the death of another legendary soprano, Beverly Sills. Just as Norman began with a few moments of silence for her recently departed friend, we observe a great silence this week. And then we will fill the room with Jessye Norman’s song.