Black Entertainment Icons Diahann Carroll and Jessye Norman Mourned

Left, Jessye Norman. (Photo courtesy of ClassicFM). Right, Diahann Carroll. Photo courtesy of Visionary Project.

The Black community lost two icons in the performing arts last week.

Actress Diahann Carroll, who pioneered television with her starring role in the 1968 series “Julia,” was 84 when she died on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, and Grammy award-winning opera soprano Jessye Norman was 74 at her death on Sept. 30

Carroll’s role as widowed nurse Julia Baker, who was raising a charming young son, also broke ground for its portrayal of a Black woman as something other than a domestic worker. The series ran through 1971 and earned her an Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe award.

Carroll already had an established career by that point.

Born Carol Diann Johnson in New York City, she attended the New York High School of Music and Art.

At the age of 16, she adopted the name Diahann Carroll and won an audition for the Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts television show.

The opportunity led to radio performances, modeling work and singing in nightclubs.

Carroll made her Broadway debut in 1954 in the musical “The House of Flowers,” which also starred Pearl Bailey and Juanita Hall. She appeared in her first film, the now classic “Carmen Jones,” starring Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge, that same year.

Carroll is survived by daughter Suzanne Kay and her grandchildren, August and Sydney.

Norman, who was known as a soprano with a robust range that reached into lower registers as well, died from complications of a spinal cord injury she had sustained in 2015, ac-cording to family statement issued to the Associated Press.

Norman was born in Augusta, Ga., to a musical family. As a child, she sang in the church gospel choir and listened to the Metropolitan Opera via radio. At 16, she entered a singing competition named after her idol Marian Anderson. Norman did not win, but was offered a full scholarship to Howard University.

After graduating with a master’s from the University of Michigan in 1968, Norman spent a decade in Europe building up her operatic repertoire, performing with German and Italian companies. By the mid-’80s, she was one of the most in-demand sopranos in the world.

Norman sang at the second inaugurations of presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. She also famously sang at the 9/11 memorial in March 2002. Norman won four Grammy Awards over her long career and won the Life Achievement Award in 2006.

In 1997, at age 52, Norman became the youngest person ever to earn the Kennedy Center Honor in the or-ganization’s 20-year history at the time. She received her National Medal of Arts from former President Barack Obama and is a member of the British Royal Academy of Music and Georgia Music Hall of Fame.

She received the 12th Glenn Gould Prize for her contribution to opera and the arts in 2018. She was also a philanthropist, contributing to many causes dear to heart, including music and homeless programs, and AIDS research.

She is survived by two remaining siblings, James Norman and Elaine Sturkey.

The Associated Press and CNN contributed to this report.


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