For this post we would like to celebrate honors received by Jessye Norman, who passed away in September 2019, starting with the honorary doctorate she received from Harvard in June, 1988. This was one of many honorary doctorates she received during her lifetime. At this time in Harvard-Radcliffe history, Radcliffe College was still awarding degrees to female students, as it was the female coordinate institution for the all-male Harvard College. Although an agreement was signed to combine admissions offices in 1977, a full absorption of Radcliffe College into Harvard University did not happen until 1999.
This photograph of Jessye Norman was taken during the convocation events.
Standing in the center of the following photograph is Oscar Arias Sánchez, President of Costa Rica, the recipient of the other honorary doctorate given that year.
In 1997, Norman received the Radcliffe Medal, given annually to individuals whose lives and work have had a transformative impact on society. It was given to Norman at the Radcliffe Annual Alumnae Association Luncheon. An audiocassette of the luncheon is available by appointment only in the Schlesinger Library. Also bestowed the honor was musician Lena Horne, a recipient in 1987.
Harvard wasn’t finished giving Norman awards. In 2016, she was awarded the W.E.B Dubois Medal honoring those who have made significant contributions to African and African American History and Culture. The award was presented at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research W.E.B. Du Bois Medal Ceremony at Harvard University, available on YouTube. As part of the ceremony, Ingrid Monson, Quincy Jones Professor of African-American Music at Harvard, read a passage about the power and necessity of music, from W.E.B. Du Bois “The Sorrow Songs” from his seminal work The Souls of Black Folk. Lana MC Lyte’ Moorer, an acclaimed female hip-hop musician, was also presented the award in the same year for her contribution to music.
These photos, along with photos of the luncheon, are held at the Radcliffe College Archives at the Schlesinger Library and are available upon request. Photographs used with permission from the Schlesinger Library.