In honor of Black History Month and my new years resolution to read a new “singer-related” book, I decided to review Jessye Norman’s autobiography Stand Up Straight and Sing! Ms. Norman is an incredible writer. She gives you so much detail, and yet manages to talk about phenomenal moments in her life like singing for various presidents, performing with some of the greatest artists of the time, and almost seems to breeze through the multitude of feats she's created. There were several times I had to re-read the paragraph I just read with my mouth agape in awe of this idol’s life.
1. Words of Wisdom.
At the end of the book, Ms. Norman gives little reflections on her life she calls "Sermons of _____." She also includes words of wisdom from inspirational colleagues, teachers, coaches, and women in her life that deserve a bookmark to return to later. Sometimes those words of wisdom are perfect for a rainy day.
2. Those golden moments of wittiness
They are there! She gives a rather hilarious response to the dreaded, "Will you sing for us?" that is both gracious AND catty.
3. Her philosophy
Ms. Norman lists daily practices for mental, physical, and spiritual health. She delves into her religious background, but also talks about other scenes from her life where she noticed a change in herself. Her mention of yoga, meditation, reverence for nature, and her love of spirituals and gospel all create an eclectic picture. No matter what you believe, you will benefit from her perspective on the combination of cultures, collaboration of musicians and music lovers, and the overall listening ears of a singer.
4. Her struggles as a woman of color
One of her chapters entitled “Racism as it Lives and Breathes” is the center point of most reviewers and you can clearly see why. Her experiences range from growing up during the Civil Rights Movement, her family getting the opportunity to meet Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and even recounting certain moments when she has experienced prejudice herself. Ms. Norman talks about these moments in her life with as much passion and conviction as she does with her talk on poetry and religion. This is clearly a subject of importance to her, and it becomes apparent as you continue to read. Her unique perspective on opera throughout various monumental moments in world history paints a picture that the general public forgets: It’s current. It’s happening right now. This very moment.
As a woman of different heritage and skin color, this resounded with me. It was wonderful to read about Ms. Norman's reactions to slight racial slurs, misogynistic comments, and even insults about her capabilities as a musician. This is a subject that is finally being talked about, and it deserves more attention! Ms. Norman gives the reader a view into the impact these moments of prejudice, doubt, and ignorance have had on her soul, her music making, and her overall journey in life. This book is meant for anyone who has ever received a comment or mention about their "incapability" to perform because of their gender, race, or financial background.
Stand Up Straight and Sing! was entertaining, though sometimes daunting, but was inspirational for a singer, a woman, and a person of different heritage. It can speak to anyone who wants a glimpse of the struggles, work ethic, and gratitude of a renowned soprano with a little extra flair.
What is your favorite singer biography or autobiography?