Celebrities, family gather for funeral of opera diva Jessye Norman

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Celebrities, civil rights leaders and arts world luminaries gathered in Jessye Norman’s hometown of Augusta, Georgia, Saturday to pay tribute to the award-winning dramatic soprano, who died last month at 74.

Performers and managers from the Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall participated in the memorial, and a choir from the eponymous Augusta school that Norman endowed sang “Bridge Over Troubled Water” at the funeral which took place at the city’s William B. Bell Auditorium.

Actor Laurence Fishburne, a fellow Augusta native, spoke about the friend he called “Stormin’ Norman,” who always arrived at his theatrical performances in voluminous robes. “She was powerful and energetic, whimsical and beautiful all at the same time,” he said. “She made me feel something greater than myself.”

Fishburne noted how he kept a black-and-white photo of Norman in his home for inspiration, along with other famous African American poets and musicians when he was a young actor in Brooklyn.

Norman, one of a handful of African American singers to gain worldwide stardom, died Sept. 30 in Manhattan. She won five Grammy Awards and honors from universities and governments around the world. She sang at the inaugurations of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

Earlier in the week, hundreds paid their respects to Norman at the Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, where recordings of her most famous arias filled the sanctuary.

“She really did belong to the whole world and every aspect of what she did mattered as an artist and as a human being,” said Clive Gillinson, artistic director of Carnegie Hall, who worked with the soprano for 45 years and spoke at the memorial. “She had the ability to make the world stop.”

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