World renowned soprano Renée Fleming will deliver this year’s commencement address at Northwestern University in June. Fleming, one of the most recognizable and celebrated voices on the planet, is a four-time Grammy Award winner, was the first classical artist to sing the National Anthem at a Super Bowl and has been presented the National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists by the U.S. government.
The commencement ceremony will be held at 9:30 a.m. Friday, June 22, at the University’s Ryan Field in Evanston.
Often referred to as “the People’s Diva,” the renowned soprano routinely performs at the world’s most prestigious opera houses and concert halls and served as the first creative consultant for the Lyric Opera of Chicago, where she remains a vice president and a member of the board.
She will appear on Broadway this spring in a major production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s American classic, Carousel. Last year, she sang the Marschallin, one of her most acclaimed roles, in a new production of Der Rosenkavalier at New York’s Metropolitan Opera.
But her popularity and influence has spread far beyond the opera world into popular culture. Fleming sang from a balcony at Buckingham Palace during Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, and she once delivered a Top 10 List on David Letterman’s show (“Top 10 Opera Lyrics,” belting out No. 1: “Although it seems imprudent, I’ve hired a high school student to wait in line to buy my iPhoooooone.”)
Last year, Fleming served as artistic director for “Chicago Voices” at Lyric Opera, a concert and ongoing initiative that showcased Chicago’s impact on the world of music, combining her voice with others from across the musical spectrum. The concert featured jazz, blues, gospel, folk, classical and alternative rock, among other genres. The multi-faceted Fleming sang a duet with folk singer John Prine.
Fleming also has deep ties to Northwestern. In 2014, she led a master class featuring four promising Northwestern voice and opera program students in the Bienen School of Music.
Fleming has long been an advocate for literacy, and recently initiated a collaboration with the Kennedy Center, the National Institutes of Health and the National Education Association that examines the science connecting music, health and the brain. Last June, Fleming joined Northwestern auditory neuroscientist Nina Kraus on stage at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. as part of this initiative to explore the relationship between music and health. Kraus, who is director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern’s School of Communication, called the event “a beautiful intersection between science and music.”
Among other awards, Fleming has received Germany’s Cross of the Order of Merit, the Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal, Sweden’s Polar Prize and Honorary Membership in the Royal Academy of Music in London. In 2017, Renée’s album Signatures was selected by the U.S. Library of Congress for the National Recording Registry, as an “aural treasure worthy of preservation as part of America’s patrimony.”
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