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Norah Jones - Biography

Grammy award winner Norah Jones was destined for musical success - and she's achieved it

Norah Jones - Biography
Bryony Gooch
US Writer
Updated: November 23, 2023
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When most 20-somethings look to the future they dream of success and fulfilment. They may even hope to reach the pinnacle of their chosen profession one day. Norah Jones, however, doesn't need to - she's already achieved the most extravagant ambitions any aspiring musician could have.

While Norah says she is amazed by her success, many would argue that this intelligent and composed young woman, with her remarkable combination of talent and beauty, was always destined for glory. 

Early life and family

As the daughter of legendary sitar master Ravi Shankar, Norah can presumably also thank her musical pedigree. Her father, who has three Grammys of his own, insisted he cannot take any plaudits for her success, however. "Norah is my daughter, but she grew up in America... I cannot take any credit for the music that she has excelled in," he said. "Her base is western, jazz and country music." 

And the renowned musician, whose other daughter Anoushka Shankar was nominated for best world music album, was at pains to emphasise that Norah has made it on her own. For many years the Indian musician was estranged from his daughter and her mother, New York concert producer Sue Jones. Indeed he had no contact whatsoever with Norah for some ten years, although the two have since made peace. "It was slightly awkward at first," he admits. "It is natural. There was a lot of anger from her mother. It took time for us to come close. And there was the guilt of all those years I had missed out on her." 

As Ravi affirms, her talent began to manifest itself at an early age. She joined a church choir at the age of five before winning a series of singing and composing awards at Booker T Washington's School for the Performing Arts in Dallas. The budding chanteuse then moved on to study piano at the University of North Texas, though she would never complete the course. Theory and study is all very well, but for this jazz-lover satisfaction meant smoky Manhattan clubs, not a leafy southern campus. 

Music Career

After two years of college, Norah dropped out and headed for New York where she formed a band with songwriter Jesse Harris and bass player Lee Alexander. Teaming up with Jesse proved fortuitous, as together the two have developed a musical midas touch. 

On February 23, 2003, at the New York ceremony, Nora took home eight of the 11 Grammys handed out. With her debut album Come Away With Me, the doe-eyed brunette won best song, best newcomer and best album, despite competition from heavyweights like Bruce Springsteen in the latter category. "This is amazing," she said after the presentation. "I can't believe this, it's incredible." Her sentiments echoed those of record company bosses on first hearing her play two years previously.

Indeed Norah was not the only winner at the award ceremony in Madison Square Garden, as her band mate also took home a gong in recognition of their collaboration Don't Know Why. The other crucial ingredient in the soft-spoken star's success has been her own equilibrium and strength of character. 

"The best thing about her is that she is not a studio concoction," says fellow pianist Vijay Iyer. Indeed despite her sultry beauty, Norah has the reputation of a girl-next-door with a humble outlook. "When sales of the record passed the one million mark she came to me and asked if we could stop selling it," recalls Blue Note Records boss Bruce Lundvall. "She didn't want people burning out on it and becoming bored. I had to persuade her that there were millions of people out there who wanted to pay to hear music that she had produced totally on her own terms." 

And after her sweep at the Grammys her first concern was that fellow nominee Bruce Springsteen might be annoyed. "I can't take the prize from him," said the startled singer. "I mean, he's the Boss!" It was a level of success she'd become accustomed to, however. Her second offering, 2004's country music-inspired Feels Like Home, sold a million copies in its first week of release. Her third album, Not Too Late also enjoyed phenomenal success in 2007.

A year later, the multi-talented artist added another string to her bow by making her acting debut opposite Jude Law in romantic drama My Blueberry Nights. Unlike most music stars turning their hand to acting, though, Norah never thought of starring in a film. The director approached her and requested she play the film's leading lady. And despite her skyrocketing career, the girl from Brooklyn remains down-to-earth. "I like to be under the radar," she affirms. "Because when things get successful, then they get overhyped, and people try to ride the wave."

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