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International opera star Jessye Norman dies at 74

The singer died from complications after a spinal cord injury she sustained in 2015.

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Jessye Norman (AP Photo/Keystone/Dominic Favre, File)

Jessye Norman (AP Photo/Keystone/Dominic Favre, File)

Jessye Norman (AP Photo/Keystone/Dominic Favre, File)

Jessye Norman, the international opera star whose passionate soprano voice won her four Grammy Awards, has died at the age of 74, her family said.

A statement said she died from septic shock and multi-organ failure secondary to complications of a spinal cord injury she sustained in 2015.

She died at Mount Sinai St Luke’s Hospital in New York, and was surrounded by loved ones.

The family statement from spokeswoman Gwendolyn Quinn said: “We are so proud of Jessye’s musical achievements and the inspiration that she provided to audiences around the world that will continue to be a source of joy.

“We are equally proud of her humanitarian endeavours addressing matters such as hunger, homelessness, youth development, and arts and culture education.”

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Jessye Norman at the Kennedy Centre Honours (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Jessye Norman at the Kennedy Centre Honours (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

AP/PA Images

Jessye Norman at the Kennedy Centre Honours (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Funeral arrangements will be announced in the coming days.

Norman was a trailblazing performer, and one of the rare black singers to attain worldwide stardom in the opera world, performing at such revered houses as La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera, and singing title roles in works like Carmen, Aida and more.

She sang the works of Wagner, but was not limited to opera or classical music, performing songs by Duke Ellington and others as well.

Norman was born on September 15 1945 in Augusta, Georgia, in segregationist times.

She grew up singing in church and around a musical family that included pianists and singers, and earned a scholarship to the historically black college Howard University in Washington DC, to study music, and later studied at Peabody Conservatory and the University of Michigan.

She made her operatic debut in 1969 in Berlin, wowing audiences around the world on stages in Milan, London and New York thanks to her shining vocals, no matter the language.

The New York Times described her voice as “a grand mansion of sound”.

“It defines an extraordinary space. It has enormous dimensions, reaching backward and upward. It opens onto unexpected vistas. It contains sunlit rooms, narrow passageways, cavernous falls,” the Times’ Edward Rothstein wrote.

In 1997, at the age of 52, Norman became the youngest person to earn the Kennedy Centre Honour in the organisation’s 20-year history at the time.

She received a National Medal of Arts from former president Barack Obama and has earned honorary doctorates from a number of prestigious schools, including Juilliard, Harvard and Yale.

She is a member of the British Royal Academy of Music and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.

Norman even has an orchid named after her in France, and the country made her a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters.

She earned 15 Grammy nominations throughout her career, picking up her first at the 1985 show for best classical vocal soloist performance for Ravel: Songs Of Maurice Ravel.

She earned a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.

PA Media