Jessye Norman

Opera singer and recitalist Jessye Norman died on 30 September 2019. In 1987, Malachite produced a film portrait of the dramatic soprano in conjunction with The Arts Council England and for BBC TV. The film, Jessye Norman: Singer  was produced by Cathy Palmer and directed by Bob Bentley.

From church spirituals in Augusta, Georgia as child, to Strauss at the Hamburg State Opera, Jessye Norman has never stopped signing. This portrait looks at her career in the mid-80s when London was her adopted home, travelling with her on performing and recording commitments. The most revealing scenes show her return to Howard University in Washington, DC, where she meets former classmates and shares her experiences with the new generation of students.

Norman links the ability to commit to a song rather than just perform it with her background in church singing. Yet the concentration on technique and shrewd management of her voice and career are part of her unique skillset, stretched by a determination to take on more difficult works. Importantly, she doesn't live in a cultural bubble, succinctly noting that "there are social responsibilities that come with simply being alive”.

The British Film Institute now holds the Arts Council England film collection and currently Jessye Norman: Singer is available to view free here. You can also read The Guardian obituary on Jessye Norman.