Aurelia Norris Young

Aurelia Norris Young was a violinist, pianist, music educator, poet, and civil rights activist who established the Bachelor of Music program at Jackson State University in Mississippi. She composed two operettas, seven songs for voice and piano, and Jackson State’s hymn and alumni song. Both Aurelia and her husband Jack Harvey Young were fierce Civil Rights activists who worked with the Freedom Riders and the NAACP.

Photo: Aurelia Norris Young, photograph from

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    Born in Knottsville, Kentucky on December 9th, 1915, Aurelia Norris Young was one of John and Hilda Norris’s three children. She began studying piano and violin while attending public school in London, Ohio, where she played the piano for the boys’ and girls’ glee clubs. She also played the violin in her high school orchestra and eventually graduated in the top 10% of her class. She excelled once again in college, graduating from Wilberforce University in 1937 with a Bachelor of Arts degree with honors. 

    After graduating, Young officially began her professional career in music in Jackson, Mississippi working as a choral director at Jackson State University (called “Jackson College” at the time). Soon thereafter she met Jack Harvey Young, whom she married in September of 1938. From 1941 to 1943 she taught piano and music theory classes at Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Mississippi, and in 1943 she became the band and orchestra director, as well the choir accompanist on national tours. Four years later Dean Henry Thomas Sampson of Jackson State University invited Young to help the college create a Bachelor of Music program, and she was officially appointed as assistant professor of music. Establishing this program was a laborious task, as Young reflected in a 1983 interview: “I was simply one of two music teachers. We taught practically thirty hours a week. We had to do everything, even going out recruiting students for the program.”

    Young took a brief break from her professorial responsibilities in 1955 to obtain her Master’s degree in music theory from Indiana University-Bloomington, Indiana, and then returned to work at Jackson State until her retirement in 1977. In addition to establishing the Bachelor of Music program at Jackson State, she also composed the school’s centennial hymn and alumni song. Her classical output beyond collegiate music included the scores for two operettas and seven songs for voice and piano. Young avidly researched African American music and was eager to share her vast knowledge through presentations, which she frequently gave at various high schools and colleges throughout Mississippi, as well as on radio and television stations. 

    In addition to her rich musical career, Young is lauded as a Civil Rights activist. She and her husband worked extensively to support the Freedom Riders—groups of white and Black activists who rode interstate buses into the South in protest of segregation laws. Jack—who was also the lead attorney for the NAACP—raised bail money for the Freedom Riders and secured their release from jail, while Aurelia ensured the Freedom Riders’ needs were met. She supplied them with food and clothing, contacted their parents with updates on their arrests and conditions in the jail, and fielded phone calls for her husband in order to track who was arrested and where. Aurelia and Jack’s combined efforts were so influential that they were frequently stalked by undercover FBI agents and received death threats from white supremacists—hazards so severe that they had to temporarily send their two children out of Jackson to protect their safety. Aurelia Norris Young is remembered today as both an essential figure in the Civil Rights movement and a highly skilled musician and educator. 

    –Sophia Janevic

    This profile was created in 2023 as part of the Song of America Fellowship Program, a project of the Classic Song Research Initiative between the Hampsong Foundation and the University of Michigan, School of Music, Theatre, and Dance.


    Aurelia Norris Young Papers, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

    Long, Worth. “The Movement Remembered: ‘Like a Banked Fire.’” Southern Changes, November 1, 2021.

    “Young, Aurelia J. Norris,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed February 23, 2023,

    Related Information



    Sheet Music

    An Anthology of African and African Diaspora Songs - 60 Songs

    Composer(s): H. Leslie Adams, David N. Baker, Margaret Bonds, Charles Brown, H. T. Burleigh, Valerie Capers, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Arthur Cunningham, Harriette Davison Watkins, William Dawson, Mark Fax, Bruce Forsythe, Antônio Carlos Gomes, Adolphus Hailstork, Jacqueline Hairston, Maud Cuney Hare, Jeraldine Herbison, Jonathan Holland, Sylvia Hollifield, Langston Hughes, J. Rosamond Johnson, Thomas Kerr, Lena McLin, Undine Smith Moore, Andre Myers, Camille Nickerson, Fred Onovwerosuoke, Eurydice Osterman, Robert Owens, Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, Zenobia Powell Perry, Rosephanye Powell, Florence Price, Dave Ragland, Nadine Shanti, Carlos Simon, Hale Smith, Irene Britton Smith, Brandon Spencer, Hilbert Stewart, Howard Swanson, George Walker, Aurelia Young

    Song(s): Amazing Grace (H. Leslie Adams)
    Christmas Lullaby (H. Leslie Adams)
    Sence You Went Away (H. Leslie Adams)
    The Heart of a Woman (H. Leslie Adams)
    The Alarm Clock (David N. Baker)
    The Negro Speaks of Rivers (Margaret Bonds)
    Caring (Charles Brown)
    Desire (Charles Brown)
    Your Eyes So Deep (H. T. Burleigh)
    Your Lips Are Wine (H. T. Burleigh)
    Autumn (Valerie Capers)
    Elëanore (Samuel Coleridge-Taylor)
    The Willow Song (Samuel Coleridge-Taylor)
    Minakesh (Arthur Cunningham)
    Stars (Harriette Davison Watkins)
    Out in the Fields (William Dawson)
    The Refused (Mark Fax)
    With Rue My Heart Is Laden (Bruce Forsythe)
    Suspiro d’alma (Antônio Carlos Gomes)
    If I Can Stop One Heart from Breaking (Adolphus Hailstork)
    Longing (Adolphus Hailstork)
    Loveliest of Trees (Adolphus Hailstork)
    Dormi, Jesu (Jacqueline Hairston)
    Gardé Piti Mulet Là (Maud Cuney Hare)
    I’ll Not Forget (Jeraldine Herbison)
    Little Elegy (Jonathan Holland)
    In Time of Silver Rain (Sylvia Hollifield)
    The Founding Fathers (Langston Hughes)
    This is My Land (Langston Hughes)
    L’il Gal (J. Rosamond Johnson)
    Soliloquy (Thomas Kerr)
    Amazing Grace (Lena McLin)
    The Year’s at the Spring (Lena McLin)
    I Am in Doubt (Undine Smith Moore)
    I Want to Die While You Love Me (Undine Smith Moore)
    For a Poet (Andre Myers)
    Chere, Mo Lemmé Toi (Camille Nickerson)
    Gué, Gué, Solingaie (Camille Nickerson)
    Mshila (Fred Onovwerosuoke)
    Entreaty (I Am the Rose of Sharon) (Eurydice Osterman)
    Could I but Ride Indefinite (Robert Owens)
    Die Nacht (Robert Owens)
    From the Dark Tower (Robert Owens)
    The Lynching (Robert Owens)
    The Secret (Robert Owens)
    Madrigal (Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson)
    O Children of Men (Zenobia Powell Perry)
    I Want to Die While You Love Me (Rosephanye Powell)
    Spring (Florence Price)
    The Sum (Florence Price)
    Martin Luther King, Jr. (Dave Ragland)
    Mangez, Boulez (Eat, Drink, Be Merry) (Nadine Shanti)
    Prayer (Carlos Simon)
    Troubled Woman (Hale Smith)
    Why Fades a Dream? (Irene Britton Smith)
    Dream Variations (Brandon Spencer)
    Spring Song (Hilbert Stewart)
    One Day (Howard Swanson)
    I Went to Heaven (George Walker)
    Norris Swamp (Aurelia Young)

    Voice Type: 36 Songs are for High Voice - Medium to High Voice
    24 Songs are for Medium - Medium to Low Voice

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