National Sawdust to Honor Jessye Norman & Sissieretta Jones

By David Salazar

Legendary soprano Jessye Norman will be recognized by the National Sawdust on Dec. 17.

In an event entitled, “An Evening Honoring Jessye Norman,” audiences will get to learn more about the legendary artist’s latest project “Sissieretta Jones: Call Her By Her Name!” This work-in-progress follows singer Sissieretta Jones whose 150th anniversary happens to fall this year and features performances from sopranos Harolyn Blackwell and Laquita Mitchell, mezzo Susan Platts, bass Arthur Woodley, and a plethora of other artists. Rachel is the music director for the evening.

The showcase will feature music by Bernstein, Verdi, Strauss, Angelou, Morrison, and Joplin, among others. The project is set to premiere and go on tour in 2020.

“The full presentation will offer some of today’s most celebrated classical and popular musicians, actors and dancers in a two-hour immersive, multimedia concert experience with a single intermission,” says a press release about what audiences can expect from the performance.

Jones, who specialized in both opera and popular music, was the best-known and highest-paid African-American performer of her day. She was the first African-American to appear on the main stage of Carnegie Hall and was also a soloist under Dvorak during a performance at Madison Square Garden. She also performed for three U.S. Presidents and members of the British Royal Family. Unfortunately, Jones, who was born in 1868 and lived until 1933, was subject to tremendous racism and never appeared in a staged opera.

“Various wise spirits have invoked the idea that it is necessary to know from where you have come in order to know where you are going. I take this to mean that respect and celebration of our ancestral and historical roots are paramount to the growth of our own hopes and dreams. The legacy of Sissieretta Jones is a bright light, which shows us the way. Amen,” said Norman about the project.