Diana Thompson Brewer sings "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands" a favorite spiritual of Jessye Norman on May 4, 2024. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News
Diana Thompson Brewer sings "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands" a favorite spiritual of Jessye Norman on May 4, 2024. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

Jessye Norman marker unveiled

Amidst heartfelt words and songs, family and friends of world-renowned opera singer Jessye Norman attended an unveiling ceremony for a lasting monument to her on May 4 at Westover Memorial Park, where she was laid to rest.

 “It is only fitting that this monument is erected at this site. A beacon of our memory will undoubtedly pique the interest of passersby and draw their attention to her final earthly resting place,” said her brother, James Howard Norman. “We hope that this marker will engage the curiosity of those who – many know nothing or little about her – that they would be inclined to educate themselves about her faith, her education, her charitable endeavors and her impact on the world of classical music, spirituals and yes, jazz.”

Born in Augusta in September 1945, Ms. Norman was a graduate of Lucy Craft Laney High School, Howard University and the University of Michigan. She gained international fame with her powerful voice and commanding stage presence, performing in the most prestigious opera houses in the world.

She received 40 honorary doctorate degrees from colleges, universities, and conservatories around the world, five Grammy awards including the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’, the National Medal of the Arts received from President Barack Obama in 2010 and was a Kennedy Center Honors recipient. In France, an orchid was named for her by the National Museum of Natural History.

Jessye Norman’s sister, Elaine Norman Sturkey and brother, James Howard Norman, unveiled the marker May 4, 2024. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

In 2003, the Jessye Norman School of the Arts was established in her name. Students from the school sang during the ceremony.

Ms. Norman died in September 2019 at the age of 74.

Marion Kukurudz of Los Angeles said there was something terribly wrong about the day because her friend of 44 years was supposed to have been the one to sing “Amazing Grace” at her funeral rather than Kukurudz giving words at a ceremony honoring Norman’s life and legacy.

The heavy rains however, she said, were fitting and seemed to be lifted from a Federico Fellini film.

Under the funeral home tent shielded from the rains, Mr. Norman and the singer’s sister, Elaine Norman Sturkey, removed the covering, revealing the marker.

Claude Harris Jr. sang “Amazing Grace” during the ceremony.

The sleek black monument features a photograph of Ms. Norman as well as several inscriptions.

At the top, it reads “He’s got the whole world in his hands.”

Ms. Norman would often sing spirituals at the close of her concerts and that song was one of her favorites, her brother said. Diana Thompson Brewer sang the song to close out the ceremony.

Above her photograph is the phrase “I represent something larger than myself,” which speaks of the connection to the school bearing her name and its students, he said.

And lastly is a verse from Psalm 150, which was read by her nephew Michael Norman during the ceremony, Another piece Ms. Norman sang quoted Psalm 150.

On the back of the marker is an excerpt from Ms. Norman’s memoir “Stand Up  Straight and Sing!”

Students from the Jessye Norman School of the Arts sing May 4, 2024.

Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News and Inspiring: Women of Augusta, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at charmain@augustagoodnews.com. Sign up for the newsletter here.

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2 responses to “Jessye Norman marker unveiled”

  1. Helen W. griffin says:

    Good article on Jessye Norman. We graduated from Lucy Craft Laney 4 June 1963.

  2. James "Howard" Norman, Sr. says:

    Many thanks to Charmain and Augusta Good News for publishing a great recap of the Unveiling Ceremony of our sister’s permanent headstone at Westover Memorial Park. It was indeed a dreary morning weatherwise, but we endured under the tent coverage and proceeded with the ceremony that we had planned. This article helps us to share a memory of the event with those who attended and those who desired to attend.