Jessye Norman dishes on hip-hop's origins and the Duke
For her concert on Saturday launching the new Pasadena-based orchestra Muse/ique, soprano Jessye Norman says she plans to keep talking to a minimum and concentrate on singing –- so if you’re going, here is her quick history lesson on American music, which will be her concentration in performing the works of George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein and Duke Ellington:
“The basis of what we call popular music in this country is the spiritual, it all comes from the same germ…. Discussing the influence of African American culture on the world with hip-hop kids, [I told them] that already in the late 1800s, particularly in the Southern states, ministers were already preaching in rhythm and giving this sort of rhythm to the Bible stories, because it was more attractive to the people of the church. Hip-hop has grown out of that,” Norman says.
And a little dish about Duke: “I love singing his music. I wish I had known him personally. I only saw him from afar -– I remember I was in university at the time … and he was walking across the road and I said, ‘Has there ever been a more elegant man in the world?’ Look at him! Dressed in a light-colored suit –- it was summer, I don’t know if it was beige or ivory … I thought, my gosh, what must it be like to be Duke Ellington?”
-- Diane Haithman
Photo: Soprano Jessye Norman, at the Langham Huntington Hotel. Credit: Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times