Smokie Norful Biography

Muskogee, Oklahoma, USA. Contemporary gospel vocalist Norful was raised in an African Methodist Episcopal household in Oklahoma. He played piano and sang from an early age, and had his first taste of public performance at his father’s church. The teenage prodigy followed his family to Pine Bluff, Arkansas where his father was installed in a new church, but by now a more secular audience was taking notice of Norful’s vocal talent. He came close to signing a recording contract as a teenage R&B artist but his father decided at the last moment that his son’s education was more important and pulled the plug on the recording contract. Norful went on to study history at the University of Arkansas and put music temporarily behind him to work as a high school teacher for six years.

In 1998, Norful left education to pursue a Masters of Divinity degree at Garrett Theological Seminary in Chicago. Norful subsequently worked in the city as an assistant pastor at the Rock of Ages Baptist Church, and also began to take a more prominent role as a featured vocalist with a number of church groups, most notably the Thompson Community Choir. He started writing gospel material for other artists but it was his own demo performances that attracted the attention of the gospel label Chordant Records, and the singer signed a solo recording contract at the start of the new millennium.

Norful’s ‘urban inspirational’ style, which draws on gospel, R&B and hip-hop, bore immediate fruit on his 2002 debut I Need You Now. The album was a major sales success, topping the Billboard Gospel chart for five weeks and also breaking into the R&B and pop charts, with the title track enjoying heavy rotation on R&B stations. The Limited Edition EP, comprising live tracks recorded at Norful’s Chicago church and a studio rendition of the seasonal ‘O Holy Night’, preceded the release of the artist’s second album. Nothing Without You leaned more towards the church than his debut and featured a rousing guest performance from gospel great Vanessa Bell Armstrong on the track ‘Continuous Grace’. The album received the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album in 2005.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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