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Music Review: Jessye Norman – Roots: My Life, My Song

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Soprano Jessye Norman — incomparable, multi-talented, multilingual — offers a devastating collection of songs which she describes as a “journey from the drums of Africa to the New World.” Roots: My Life, My Song begins with “African Drum Invocation” and guides the listener through remarkable renditions of Spirituals, popular music, opera, blues, and jazz.

Artistry and enunciation combine to produce a haunting “Habanera,” a languid “April in Paris,” and an awesomely mournful “Pretty Horses,” while her fellow musicians shine with a bouncy “Take the ‘A’ Train.”  And what a twist to hear Norman’s classical voice deliver “It Don’t Mean a Thing” and “Don’t Get around Much Anymore.” "God's Gonna Cut You Down" is a real departure from the rest of Norman's material, earthy and bluesy with a southern flavor.

Roots: My Life, My Song is a live performance, and Jessye Norman’s joy clearly shines through as she seduces the listener with her pleasure at performing. This amazing woman has assumed roles in dozens of operas and countless oratorios. An active worker in the fight against world hunger (as well as several diseases, including AIDS and breast cancer) and a major figure in African-American culture, Norman is the recipient of numerous honors and awards world-wide.

The music on Roots: My Life, My Song has personal significance to Norman. In notes included with the CD, she expounds on music and some of her greatest musical influences — Nina Simone, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Odetta, Thelonius Monk, and Duke Ellington — and explains some of the selections for Roots: My Life, My Song.

Following the opening invocation, Norman sings “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” A Capella, a breathtaking display of her range and emotional connection to the music. “Somewhere” from West Side Story receives a delivery that elevates it high above the West Side and into stratosphere; it’s short, but it’s incredible. “Stormy Weather” is given a beautiful interpretation, highlighted by perfect lyrical phrasing. It's followed by “Mack the Knife,” again displaying Norman’s remarkable phrasing and enunciation. Listening to Jessye Norman is like discovering a new dimension — with a voice that knocks you back on your heels and a theatricality that is nothing short of spectacular, she inspires both enjoyment of and respect for the music she performs.


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About Miss Bob Etier

  • Stanley Silverman

    I have just listenend to most of Jessye Norman’s new 2-CD set. I must respectfully disagree with Ms. Etier’s review. Unfortunately, Ms. Norman’s voice is a mere shadow of its former self, and little of the material is actually sung (in the true sense of the word). Particularly alarming is the poor intonation – the soprano is frequently flat, which no amount of “style” can disguise.

  • Jose Paulo

    She’s fantastic, wonderful… Love from Portugal

  • Rose Marie

    Miss Norman just gave a brilliant concert of Mahler in German, with a voice that sounded young and clean, yet perfectly mature. Dazzling. Hopefully there will be a recording – the please Mr. Silverman, reconsider.

  • peggy

    Miss Norman, Did you receive the notice of Bill Penn’s Life, he died on December 15,2004. The woman I gave it to was too snobbish. I hope that you got it. I have your Amazing Grace,and will look for your other cd’s. I was married to Bill.