Famed international opera star Jessye Norman was awarded this year’s Bob Marley Award at the 17th American Foundation for the University of the West Indies’ AFUWI legacy awards benefit gala held recently in New York. The recipient of the award, sanctioned by the Marley family, is given to an individual who has demonstrated a lifetime of excellence and commitment in vocational, philanthropic and humanitarian pursuits; and whose sphere of influence goes beyond national boundaries impacting the world at large.
Given the remarkable transforming power, reach and depth of:the art, the message and the music of Robert Nesta Marley, OM — who has been dubbed “Man of the last Century” and, arguably, the “most important figure in 20th Century Music and the greatest lyricist of our time — deserving recipients of this honor are expected to possess rank parallel to that of Marley’s and also reflect the very essence of his soul.
It has not been an easy task, observers noted, for the consortium of Caribbean leaders, AFUWI Board of Trustees, UWI Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor, and past and present members of the university’s board of directors and past honorees, to submit potential candidates for the distinguished Bob Marley Award.
Why Jesseye Norman?
Norman has enriched citizens of the world through music and her performances, which has had extraordinary impact on American music and culture. She has been the recipient of numerous honors, locally and internationally for her artistry and humanitarian efforts. Among her many accolades are: a recipient of the French government’s Legion d’Honneur; the title of Commandeur de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres; the Radcliff Institute Medal, and the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal in recognition of her humanitarian and civic contributions, which include the tuition-free Jessye Norman School of the Arts in her hometown of Augusta, Ga, for talented middle-school students in music performance, writing, drama, dance, and graphic arts.
The recipient of five Grammy awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award, Norman also has been awarded the Grand Prix National du Disque — a Gramophone Award; the Edison Prize, and other honors in Belgium, Spain, and Germany for her recordings. In 1997, Ms. Norman became the youngest artist to be awarded the Kennedy Center Honor; and at a 2010 White House ceremony she was presented with the highest award in the arts, the National Medal of Arts. She also is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Norman’s many other prestigious distinctions include honorary doctorates at some 40 colleges, universities and conservatories around the world. Since winning the Munich Competition in 1968, Norman developed an operatic and recital career across Europe, the United States, Asia and South America. Her repertoire expanded to include jazz with her American Masters program tours of music by Bernstein, Gershwin, Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Ellington.
In addition to her performance schedule, Norman serves on the board of directors for The New York Public Library, the board of governors for the New York Botanical Garden, and on the boards of Carnegie Hall, The Dance Theatre of Harlem, Howard University, the Lupus Foundation, and Paine College.
Her biography speaks for itself, but her lifelong commitment to humanitarian and artistic causes with impact transcends geographical boundaries. Upon receiving the Bob Marley Award, Norman quoted from George Bernard Shaw: ”I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me; it is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to the future generations.”
Norman urged continued support for education, addng that: “Education in the arts … the creativity is that which enriches us….It comes from a part of us without fear, prejudice, malice that separates us, leads us to self-knowledge and makes us whole. Education is a way out of poverty. It certainly is a way to a more enriched life.”
Lowell Hawthorne, the current chairman of the AFUWI Partnership Board,, shares the sentiment that, “It is the commitment of the American Foundation of the University of the West Indies to continue to source funding to ensure that the level of excellence is perpetuated at the institution for years to come.”
In his reflection on the achievements of its students, staff and alumni of the “fine yertiary institution” the vice chancellor referred to 2014 Jamaican Rhodes Scholar recipient, Timar Fitz-Jackson, an actuarial science masters degree graduate, as well as the collective luminaries over the years. This year’s luminaries are: Nick Charles, director of Communications for Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and the LISC Emergency Fund; Elinor Tatum, publisher and editor-in-chief of the New York Amsterdam News; Dr. Dwight E. Williams, board-certified oral and maxillofacial surgeon, who serves a predominantly large Caribbean community in the New York City borough of The Bronx.
AFUWI also recognized were the following Caribbean Luminaries of 2014: Gail E.D. Brathwaite, GCM, chief operating officer and executive vice president of Bankwell Financial Group, Inc.; designer, Michelle Elie of Haitian-American roots; and Dr. Velma P. Scantlebury, associate director of transplantation at Christiana Care Transplant Center, a native of Bridgetown, Barbados.
Caribbean luminaries are selected for their work and exponential impact on the Caribbean and its diaspora in their specialized fields.
AFUWI Legacy Wards Benefit Gala is typically hosted each year in the last week of January in New York City.