Opera aficionado George Hamilton pays tribute to one of the greats... 

Regal is a word that has been used often to describe the American soprano Jessye Norman, who has died at the age of 74.

All of opera's leading ladies have a presence about them. It was the richness of her voice, the vibrancy, the subtlety of her phrasing, all combined, that raised her to a pinnacle of artistic perfection.

She knew her worth. She was one of the 20th century’s greatest singers, commanding stages across the globe, pouring herself out for us, as Rufus Wainwright, the Canadian musician and songwriter put it so eloquently on social media.

It wasn’t only opera. Born into an African-American family in Augusta, Georgia, where she sang in church, she fell in love with musical drama at an early age, but there was more to her than La Scala, Covent Garden, and the Met.

The "grand mansion of sound" as the New York Times once described her voice moved easily through the songsphere, equally at home performing jazz, or gigging with the likes of Elton John and Bruce Springsteen at the Rock for the Rainforest event in Carnegie Hall in 1995.

A winner of five Grammys, she was recognised by Presidents, singing at the inaugurations of both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Barack Obama awarded her the National Medal of Arts.

She sang, too, for Britain’s Queen Elizabeth on her 60th birthday in 1986.

Three years later, Jessye was in Paris, draped in the French tricolour, performing the Marseillaise during that country’s bicentennial celebrations.

The consummate artist, she did it her way.

1984: Jessye Norman (R) poses with Spanish tenor Alfredo Kraus (L) and then Culture Minister
Jack Lang (C) after they received the Commandre de l'ordre ses Arts et Lettres in Paris.

In a BBC interview, she said of the critics: "They may write it, but I don’t read it.

"I know whether or not I have done on stage what I intended to do that night."

Whatever she did, her public loved her for it.

George Hamilton is the host of The Hamilton Scores on RTÉ lyric fm.