Grammy Award-Winning Opera Singer Jessye Norman Dies at 74: 'One of the True Greats'

Besides singing, Norman dedicated her life to helping others and shaping the country's youth art programs

Jessye Norman
Photo: Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

Jessye Norman, the renowned international opera singer who made an impact as both a music icon and a humanitarian, has died. She was 74.

Norman died on Monday morning at 7:54 a.m. local time at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital in New York, New York, her family spokesperson Gwendolyn Quinn confirms to PEOPLE.

“It is with deep sadness and sorrow that we announce the passing of international opera star Jessye Norman,” Quinn said in a statement, adding that Norman was surrounded by her loved ones.

The Grammy Award-winning singer died of “septic shock and multi-organ failure secondary to complications of a spinal cord injury she had sustained in 2015.”

“We are so proud of Jessye’s musical achievements and the inspiration that she provided to audiences around the world that will continue to be a source of joy,” Quinn stated. “We are equally proud of her humanitarian endeavors addressing matters such as hunger, homelessness, youth development, and arts and culture education.”

Jessye Norman
Jessye Norman. julio donoso/Getty Images
Jessye Norman
Jessye Norman. Kühn ullstein bild/Getty Images

Born and raised in Augusta, Georgia, Norman was immediately surrounded by music, as she grew up singing in her church and around a musical family that included pianists and singers.

She continued her passion for music in college, opting to study the craft at Howard College in Washington D.C., and later at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and the University of Michigan, before making her opera debut in 1969 at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

From there, Norman appeared in a series of performances and concert tours around the world, including her United States stage debut at the Opera Company of Philadelphia in November 1982 and her Metropolitan Opera debut in New York in September 1983.

Her impressive soprano vocals quickly earned her praise and recognition as one of the greatest operatic singers of all time, as well as one of the leading African-American opera singers in a white-dominated industry.

Throughout her illustrious career, Norman was nominated for 15 total Grammy Awards, picking up four wins — including best classical vocal soloist performance and best opera recording — and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.

Jessye Norman
Jessye Norman. Jaanson/Getty Images

In 1997, Norman made history at age 52 when she became the youngest person ever to earn the Kennedy Center Honor in their 20-year existence.

She also received a number of impressive accolades throughout her lifetime including earning honorary doctorates from Julliard, Harvard, and Yale, among others; having an orchid named after her in 1984 in France; being named Honorary Ambassador to the United Nations in 1990 by U.N. Secretary Xavier Perez de Cueller; and earning a National Medal of Arts in 2009 from former President Barack Obama.

Jessye Norman
Jessye Norman. ulio donoso/Getty Images

In recent years, Norman had expanded her craft from opera to jazz and opened an after school program to “nurture the artistic and creative talents of students” called the Jessye Norman School of the Arts in her hometown of Augusta.

Besides performing and helping run the school, Norman served on multiple Boards of Directors for the New York Public Library, the New York Botanical Garden, City-Meals-on-Wheels in New York City, the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the National Music Foundation, and the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Following the news, a number of tributes poured in from fans and loved ones on social media.

“One of the true greats in the world of music has gone on to take her place with the other gods: RIP Jessye Norman,” wrote one user.

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“Beautiful Jessye. Thank you for some of the most sublime moments of music I’ve ever heard. Your gift to the world was staggering, and I am gutted,” said someone else.

“Few could summon the angels like the soprano Jessye Norman. A uniquely American voice that broke barriers and moved hearts. We will miss her dearly. May she Rest in Peace,” added another user.

Funeral arrangements for Norman are expected to be announced in the coming days.

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