I was named after Jessye Norman, the highly acclaimed African-American opera singer, and I guess that sealed my fate. Even though my Dead-Head parents were intense hippies and admirers of Bob Dylan, they opted to name me after an opera singer.
My brother and I grew up in rural Bowling Green, Ohio, on 20 acres of farmland with our scientist - father and mystery - writer - mother, and both sets of grandparents near by. I could match pitch when I was an infant, a skill I probably inherited from my mom and grandmother, both of whom have beautiful singing voices. I begged my parents to let me take piano lessons when I was 4 years old. This was the beginning of my passion for music; I don’t remember life without it. Music has always been my second language, the way I most deeply express myself, and I couldn’t have survived adolescence without it.
After performing my first role in 3rd grade (the Mummy in a Halloween musical), I sang in, and accompanied, school choirs for years. I did a lot of musical theater too; I think my interest in and love for performing started then. I loved the pressure and challenge of performing in front of a live audience.
I attended Hillsdale College and majored in theology and French, with a minor in music. I began studying classical voice for the first time. Singers often say that music chooses them, not the reverse, and for me this was definitely the case. I cried after many voice lessons. I tried not to love it. I told myself I didn’t have the ability, desire or strength to pursue such an unstable career. But a force greater than myself kept pulling me back to music, and I finally had to give in and accept my fate. My first operatic role was Baba in “The Medium” and it was a transforming experience; for the first time in my life, I felt completely at ease and at home. As though I’d found my calling.
I auditioned for the Aspen Opera Theater Center my senior year in college, and, providentially, got in. I remember calling my parents on the phone that summer and telling them, “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” And it is.