In a partially renovated building, we waited.
On a hot Sunday afternoon where there was no air conditioning, we waited.
A group of older women, sitting in a row of chairs against a wall, fanned with their programs and waited.
The news media wondered if they would meet their deadlines, but they waited.
The punch bowls dribbled with rivulets of sweat and the desserts and the birthday cake got soft, but we waited.
And then she came: the star who had come home to accept keys to a building for "her" school and on her birthday.
After the speeches and introductions, she hugged the donor of the building as he choked up, remembering when he had seen her first -- on German television, a celebrity from his hometown!
And she sang. Clearly and joyously with no accompaniment -- "Bless This House, oh, Lord, we pray. Make it safe by night and day" -- her voice gave blessing to this place, the people who had come and to their hopes for the school which bears her name. She waved the keys high and thanked Peter Knox IV for the building and, as the cake was cut, seemed uncomfortable that everyone got to sing except herself! Then she greeted her old high school classmates in the row of chairs, hugged old friends, met some new ones and patted her makeup with a bright blue napkin for a quick TV interview.
The new building still needs some downstairs air conditioning, but upstairs is bright and cool with real dance studios and well-lit art spaces and practice rooms. It's just across the street from the church which has housed the school from the beginning and I think it is ready for its own space. I served two years on the Advisory Council and saw the kinds of things which can be done with an intense after-school program for teenagers through the Jessye Norman School of the Arts.
And, in the end, we didn't care that we had waited in the heat and humidity, wondering how quickly we could get away, because Jessye Norman is a Star.
And she's still a hometown girl.
In the photos:
Peter Knox IV & Jessye Norman
Jessye Norman and my daughter, Susan
BushStrokes (c) AAB