Why Sing Jessye’s Songs? Julia Wee Explains


Soprano Julia Wee, pianist Lucas Allerton and guest soprano Pamela Andrews present Songs Jessye’s Sung,a landmark recital this weekend, which celebrates four decades of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and showcases the songs of the incomparable Jessye Norman.

Julia share some of her insights as she prepares for her recital:

“Jessye Norman burst onto the international stage in 1968, winning the Bayerischer Rundfunk Internationaler Musikwettbewerb, the largest international classical music competition in Germany. That same year, in the United States of America, opposition to American military involvement in the Vietnam war was intensifying and Martin Luther King was assassinated just as the Civil Rights Act (outlawing discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex or national origin) was about to be passed into law. In Europe, France was seized by civil unrest while in Czechoslovakia Soviet tanks were rolling in to suppress the Prague Spring. All these momentous events no doubt made a deep and lasting impression on a young Jessye Norman in her formative years.

In her 2015 autobiography, Stand Up Straight and Sing!, Ms Norman writes of the events of 1968:

“Every voice needed to find its own place, its own platform from which the cry for freedom and equality could be heard.”

This struggle for civil liberties and freedoms inspired me to put together a program of songs from Ms Norman’s repertoire in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

Even though Ms Norman achieved international acclaim, she never forgot her American beginnings and she includes spirituals, jazz standards and popular musical theatre hits in her repertoire. I am touched by Ms Norman’s fealty to her roots.

Such genre straddling also gives me the impression that Ms Norman is an upstanding human of great integrity: she defies efforts to categorise her and she sings what she wants to sing; she just is who she is. This is a sentiment many GLBTQI folk would recognise.

Ms Norman writes of learning a valuable lesson as a child singing and worshipping at church: “…to walk onto a stage, look around and smile, and say in our minds, I’m glad to be here, and now I would like to sing for you.” This is the generosity I hope to convey in this recital, in particular in Strauss’s Four Last Songs, which so elegantly convey a sense of love’s fullness.”

Julia Wee for SoundsLikeSydney©

More details about  Songs Jessye’s Sung.

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