Born in Augusta, Georgia, Jessye Norman says her parents say she was born singing. Often, when responding to her mother or grandmother, she would sing her words. When she was nine, her grandmother called her in from play one day to hear Marian Anderson on the radio, Ms. Norman was captivated by the operatic voice. Later at the age of 16, Norman entered the Marion Anderson Vocal Competition in Philadelphia; while she did not win, her exposure there led to an offer of a music scholarship at Howard University, which she accepted. There she sang in the university choir, graduating in 1967. Afterwards, she studied at the Peabody Institute and later at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Upon completion of her master's degree, Norman went to Europe to continue her establish herself; in Germany she won an international competition in Munich and was given a position in the Deutsche Oper Berlin. During this time, having made her debut in Tannhauser, she became fluent in German.
Establishing herself as a commanding figure, Norman sang in German and Italian operas. She is a large woman, but her voice is equally as commanding because her voice registers from contralto to high soprano. In 1972 she was given the lead female role in Aida in the famous Milan opera house, La Scala. In 1980, after establishing herself in Europe, Jessye Norman returned to the United States, appearing in Philadelphia's opera house in the role of Jocasta of Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex.
Jessye Norman has an amazing repertoire of operatic roles, numerous honorary doctorates, several Grammy Awards, and many other accolades. She has sung at many momentous occasions in the United States and Europe.