Special to The Mississippi Link
ORLANDO, Fla. – The NAACP Board of Directors awarded opera singer and honorary UN Ambassador Jessye Norman the 98th Spingarn Medal, the Association’s highest honor. Norman became the 98th recipient of the award, and she was honored during the NAACP National Convention in Orlando July 17 at the annual Spingarn Dinner.
“Jessye Norman is a true inspiration,” stated Chairman Roslyn M. Brock. “Her work embodies the power of music and its ability to serve as the soundtrack to our movement for social justice.”
The Spingarn Medal, first instituted in 1914 by then NAACP Chairman Joel E. Spingarn, is awarded to an American of African descent who has demonstrated outstanding and noble achievement during the preceding years.
“Jessye Norman truly deserves to have this honor bestowed upon her,” stated NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “She has changed the world with her music and her activism. We can only look forward with expectation at where her career is headed from here.”
“Jessye Norman is a daughter of the South but she is a citizen of the world,” stated Congressman John Lewis. “We honor her tonight for her unwavering commitment to preserving the art, power and history of the African American experience.”
Jessye Norman was born on Sept. 15, 1945, in Augusta, Georgia. In 1969, she debuted as an opera singer in Tannhaeuser. Her performance resulted in numerous job offers. She went on to tour through the 1970s. By the 1980s her roles in Aïda and Les Troyen had made her one of the most popular opera singers worldwide.
In 1984, the French Government named her Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres” and in 1989 she was awarded the “Legion d’Honneur.” Ms. Norman was made an honorary ambassador to the United Nations in 1990. In 1997, she became the youngest to the receive Kennedy Center Honors. The soprano has also received honorary doctorates across thirty colleges, universities, and conservatories around the world.
“I am honored beyond words and humbled greatly just reading the names of those who have received this honor in the past,” stated Norman. “Thank you for adding this enormous amount of fuel to my fire.”
To date, 97 Spingarn Medals have been awarded, recognizing achievements in a range of fields. Medalists include Dr. Benjamin S. Carson, U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), former U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, media personality Oprah Winfrey, baseball hall of famer Henry “Hank” Aaron, Vernon Jordan, U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), William H. Cosby, Jr., Maya Angelou, Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Percy E. Sutton, Gordon Parks, John Hope Franklin, the late Judge Leon Higginbotham Jr., Carl Rowan, NAACP Chairman Emeriti Julian Bond and Myrlie Evers-Williams, businessman and publisher Earl G. Graves, Sr., Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., artist Jacob Lawrence, Rosa Parks, opera singer Leontyne Price, Judge Constance Baker Motley, Judge Robert L. Carter, and the late Oliver W. Hill, Sr.