Willa Mae Norris, 88, teacher, singer

Willa Mae Norris
Willa Mae Norris
Posted: October 21, 2012

Willa Mae "Billye" Norris, 88, a retired Philadelphia schoolteacher and opera singer, died of heart failure Tuesday, Oct. 9, at Simpson House, a nursing facility in West Philadelphia.

Mrs. Norris taught first and second grade in the Philadelphia School District for 37 years, serving at Robert Fulton and Rudolph Walton Elementary Schools. She retired in the 1980s.

She was active in the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers for many years.

Mrs. Norris also was an opera singer who performed as a soprano soloist with the Dra Mu Opera, a black opera company in the city; the Philadelphia Concert Orchestra; and the 52d Street Choirs at the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in West Philadelphia.

She studied opera under Henry Ambler Winder of Philadelphia and performed on local radio and at the Latin Club and other venues.

Mrs. Norris was born Oct. 9, 1924, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Brown of Manayunk. She attended public schools and graduated from Roxborough High School in 1943.

Mrs. Norris graduated from West Chester State Teachers College in 1947 with a degree in elementary education.

She married Reginald Royster in 1954. The couple divorced 19 years later. In 1982, she married Charles Norris, who died in 2002. Mrs. Norris was a longtime member of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas.

Her son, Reginald Royster, said she was active in several community service organizations and also enjoyed playing bridge, gardening, traveling, knitting, and quilting.

"She was just a wonderful, giving person who loved to create things with her music and she loved to create with anything that she did, whether it was quilting, knitting, or entertaining," he said.

In addition to her son, Mrs. Norris is survived by a grandson, Reginald Royster 3d.

The funeral was Thursday at the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas.


Contact Vernon Clark at 215-854-5717 or vclark@phillynews.com.

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