The first time I heard Norah Jones's debut album, Come Away with Me
, I was struck by what it felt like: the truth. I have that same feeling the day I meet Norah at a Manhattan Jewish community center called Makor, where the singer was discovered by someone from a record company just two years before her extraordinary five Grammy wins in February. Like her music, nothing about Norah seems false or manufactured: She greets me wearing a simple white blouse and jeans, just a hint of makeup, and a self-assuredness far beyond her 24 years. Even the piano rendition of a Duke Ellington song she later plays for me doesn't feel overly rehearsed. After spending an hour with this girl wonder from Texas, I understand why what she sings about and who she is both feel so honest. They are.
The daughter of former concert promoter Sue Jones and legendary Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar, Norah was raised by her mother in Grapevine, Texas, and began singing in church choirs at age 5. She saw her father a few times a year until she was 9, then reconnected with him when she was 18. At 13 she moved with her mother to Dallas and enrolled in Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts—the school that soul singer Erykah Badu and trumpeter Roy Hargrove once attended. Her first real gig was on her 16th birthday at an open mike night in a Dallas coffee shop, where she performed "I'll Be Seeing You," a song made famous by Billie Holiday.
After high school, Norah began studying music at the University of North Texas. But in the summer of 1999, when a songwriter friend offered her a sublet in Greenwich Village, she headed north and never returned home. She was scraping together a living in New York when Blue Note president Bruce Lundvall signed her to his label in 2001. Two years later, she tied with Lauryn Hill and Alicia Keys for the most Grammy wins by a female artist in a single night.
When Norah and I part, I tell her the same thing Quincy Jones told me after we'd finished filming The Color Purple
: "Your future is so bright that it's going to burn your eyes!" The energy and vitality Norah brings to a room, the spirit of truth in her lyrics, and the bold stands she takes to define herself as a musician all give her an authenticity that can't be faked. Start reading Oprah's interview with Norah Jones Note: This interview appeared in the July 2003 issue of
O, The Oprah Magazine.