CNBC Meets

Jessye Norman: 'Racialism' is rife in US politics

Opera superstar Jessye Norman has launched a blistering attack on the "unprecedented roadblocks" U.S. Congress has put in the way of President Barack Obama just because he is an African American.

The celebrated opera soprano said "racialism was practiced at the highest levels of government" in the U.S. -- something, she insisted, should no longer be allowed.

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"I'm disappointed by the Congress with which he (President Obama) has to work. Because the roadblocks that members of Congress put in front of this President are unprecedented. And they have very little to do with his policies, and very much to do with the fact that he's African American. And I say that very loudly because I know it to be true," she told Tania Bryer, host of CNBC Meets.

"I'm not running for office so I don't have to hedge my conversations here about this. It's racialism practiced at the highest levels of government, that is a thing which should not even be allowed. We should be better than that, we should be bigger than that," she added.

Norman said the culprits were mostly "on the other side of the aisle", accusing Republican Congress members including the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Senate of plotting against President Obama since the first day of his inauguration.

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"But so far they've not been able to sort of have their wish have they? We have the Affordable Care Act, we're going to have immigration reform, and we're going to have reform of the school systems in our country because I think that President Obama in the end, is going to prevail," she said.

Growing up in the segregated south of Augusta Georgia, Norman said she first experienced the "American Apartheid" as a five-year-old at a train station, which she said pushed her to fight for equality ever since.

Known for her Richard Wagner repertoire, the American Grammy winner was invited to sing at Deutsche Oper Berlin in 1969 when she was just 24 years old, at a time when there were very few African American opera singers.

However the lack of African Americans singing opera is worrying, she added.

"I had no idea at the time that there were so few African American singers singing this music. I'm not at all pleased to say that I'm afraid this remains the case. As far as I know there isn't another African American woman who sings the music of Richard Wagner. I don't know whether its lack of interest or a lack of opportunity," she added.

CNBC Meets: Jessye Norman will air on 22 April at 23:00 CET