Stand Up Straight and Sing! by Jessye Norman

Stand Up Straight and Sing! by Jessye NormanStand Up Straight and Sing! by Jessye Norman
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on May 6, 2014
Genres: Biography & Memoir, Music
Pages: 336
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration.
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One of America's most admired and decorated artists tells her amazing story, from her childhood in the South to the world's greatest stages.
Jessye Norman is not only one of the world's most admired and beloved singers, she is an American icon whose life story is as moving and dramatic as the great operatic roles she has performed on stage.
Born and raised in Augusta, Georgia, nurtured in a close family and tight-knit community centered around the church, she studied the piano and sang the songs of her childhood, not dreaming that this passion for music might lead to her life's profession.
In Stand Up Straight and Sing!, Jessye Norman recalls in rich detail the strong women who were her role models, from her ancestors to family friends, relatives, and teachers. She hails the importance of her parents in her early learning and experiences in the arts. And she describes coming face-to-face with racism, not just as a child living in the segregated South, but also as an adult out and about in the world.She speaks of the many who have inspired her and taught her essential life lessons. A special interlude on her key relationship with the pioneering African American singer Marian Anderson reveals the lifelong support that this great predecessor provided through her example of dignity and grace at all times.
The story of one woman’s astonishing life, Stand Up Straight And Sing! is not just for lovers of music, but for everyone.


American opera star and recitalist Jessye Norman is one of the most celebrated and highly respected singers in the world. In her upcoming memoir Stand and Straight and Sing!, she shares what it was like to grow up in the segregated South and how she made her way to stages across the globe.

Norman’s conversational tone is intimate and remarkably kind, even when she shares a story that could portray a colleague in an unflattering light. She also has a rebellious, “don’t tell me I can’t do that” kind of spirit, combined with a hint of diva, a hint of tomboy, and a very strong sense of security and comfort in who she is. To be honest, I found her to be just delightful! I wanted to know all about the stories she had to tell.

Something that really stood out to me is how Norman recalls her family and community with such great fondness and gratitude. That is always refreshing in a memoir. I came away loving her mom especially, and thinking about what an amazing woman she must have been.

That being said, it’s hard for me to gauge how non-musicians will feel about the book. There are some amazing passages about her childhood and the impact of major events in history (especially the fall of the Berlin Wall). Naturally, there are also long stretches that focus on her profession. Here’s where I’m torn: there are times when she explains musical terms or traditions so a layperson could understand, yet there are times when she doesn’t. I’m a professional and still had to look up a term or two that is specific to the vocal world. If you’re a classical music or opera enthusiast or professional, this will be a sure winner. Otherwise, there might be a large portion of the book you aren’t all that interested in.

As for me, I loved Stand and Straight and Sing!. I never grew tired of Norman’s stories, and I feel I came out of the book with a deeper appreciation for what singers do, as well as some new insights I can apply in own work.