Norah Jones was born in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn in 1979 to Sue Jones, a nurse and music promoter, and Ravi Shankar, a world-famous musician hailing from India.
Shankar became widely known for his association with the Beatles and other Western musicians; he taught Beatles' guitarist George Harrison how to play the sitar, a long-necked Indian stringed instrument, of which Shankar is considered a master.
As early as age three, Jones began showing a keen interest in music, closely watching her father when he played his sitar. At age five she began singing in her church choir. She learned to play several instruments in her youth, primarily studying piano.
While Jones was still very young age, her mother and father separated and her mother moved her to suburb of Dallas called Grapevine. Jones lived there for much of her childhood, having no contact with her famous father for ten years.
Her musical influences during that time came from her mother's record collection. She felt especially affected by the works of great jazz, soul, and blues singers, including Etta James, Aretha Franklin, and Billie Holiday.
During her high school years Jones also played in a band called Laszlo and tried her hand at composing jazz tunes. She earned recognition from the highly respected jazz magazine Down Beat, winning their Student Music Award (SMA) for Best Jazz Vocalist two years running and also winning an SMA for Best Original Composition.
After graduating from high school Jones enrolled at the University of North Texas. She spent two years there, studying jazz piano and giving solo performances at a local restaurant on weekends. She also became reacquainted with her father, and the two developed a close relationship. The summer after her sophomore year Jones decided to move back to New York City and try her luck making it as a musician there.
On the evening of her twenty-first birthday, Jones gave a performance that connected deeply with a notable member of her audience. Shell White, an employee in the accounting department of the revered jazz label Blue Note, was so struck by Jones's talents that she arranged for a meeting between the young singer and the label's chief executive officer (CEO), Bruce Lundvall.
After meeting Jones and hearing her sing, Lundvall signed her to a record deal on the spot. Lundvall explained to Time magazine's that such impulsive decisions had been made only twice in his career at Blue Note (the other artist was jazz vocalist Rachelle Ferrell).
Lundvall described the essence of Jones's appeal: "Norah doesn't have one of those over-the-top instruments. It's just a signature voice, right from the heart to you. When you're lucky enough to hear that, you don't hesitate. You sign it."
Her first album on the Blue Note label, Come Away with Me, was released in early 2002 and earned positive reviews. Music critics expressed appreciation for her distinctive voice and authentic, understated style. Many critics wrote of Jones as a promising new artist, a refreshing change of pace from the slick packaging of pop stars like Britney Spears.
However, even the most admiring reviewers, did not predict that the album would gradually become a smash hit and that Jones would become Blue Note's best-selling artist ever. Come Away with Me became so successful that it seemed to be everywhere: on the radio, on television, playing over the public address system in shopping malls. .
In fact, the album's exposure became so great that a small backlash arose, with some music journalists declaring that the attention was nothing but hype, and and even started calling her "Snorah Jones," a nickname Jones found amusing rather than hurtful. She once remarked, "My mom calls me Snorah all the time now."
The album was nominated for eight Grammy awards and won all eight awards for which it was nominated, with Jones receiving five awards and the three others going to producer Mardin, the album's engineers, and songwriter Jesse Harris for "Don't Know Why."
Among Jones's victories were trophies for Album of the Year and Best New Artist. As the ceremony progressed, Jones began to feel overwhelmed, as she related in Texas Monthly: "I felt like I was in high school and all the popular kids were in the audience and were, like, 'What's she doing up there?' I felt like I had gone in a birthday party and eaten all the cake before anyone else got a piece."
Some aspects of her newfound fame pleased her, especially the positive reception from most critics and her increased ability to control the direction of her career. But for the most part Jones retreated from the spotlight. She preferred the idea of being a member of a group rather than a solo star, telling Billboard 's Melinda Newman, "Deep down, in my gut, all I want to be is part of a band."
Her follow-up album, Feels Like Home, followed a different, steeper path when released in 2004. Many people watched closely to see if her first album was a fluke. Jones's second effort shot straight to number one, selling one million copies in its first week alone.
Since then, she has gone on to collaborate with a number of her favorite jazz, country and hip hop artists, selling number one hits, but all the while managing to avoid the spotlight.
Norah Jones is a musician who has sought success but not necessarily stardom, and who seems more likely to share the spotlight than grab it for herself. At a time when young pop singers belt out every note with over-the-top passion, Jones opts for subtlety, understanding that a low-key voice stripped to its essence can pack a greater punch than one bellowed out at top volume.
"I'm not soft-spoken and romantic, at all. I must be, somewhere deep down, otherwise I wouldn't like that kind of music,” said Jones. “But I'm only like that when I'm on stage. I'm pretty much just loudmouthed, obnoxious and silly."
Every Sunday, throughout National Women's History Month, Bed-Stuy Patch will highlight one woman from Bedford-Stuyvesant who is making her mark and carving out her own unique place in history.