Smokie Norful, widely known as a gospel artist, calls his music “urban inspirational.” “I almost don’t like to be pigeonholed as gospel other than the fact that what I do sing is a gospel message,” said Norful in an interview with grammy.com. “The packaging of my music is so universal it actually could be pop, urban [or] inspirational … because it’s popular in its packaging, but it’s also very impacting and powerful in its content.”
A pianist and vocalist, Norful will join Jason Moran and Alicia Hall Moran for the Midwest premiere May 24 of “Two Wings: The Music of Black America in Migration,” which weaves together many musical styles to tell the story of the African-Americans and how their movement north shaped American culture. The concert, part of the SCP Jazz Series, will feature a roster of luminaries, including cellist Seth Parker Woods, pianist Jason Tyson, guitarist Rico McFarland and Tony Llorens, and the ensembles Imani Winds and the Kenwood Academy Jazz Band. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Margo Jefferson serves as the host.
Along with being an internationally acclaimed music artist, Norful also maintains a parallel career as a minister, with two congregations in the Chicago area, the Victory Cathedral on the South Side and the Victory Cathedral Worship Center in southwest suburban Bolingbrook.
Here are a few other background facts about Norful:
A child prodigy: He displayed a talent for music at a very early age. At 2 years old, he could pick out melodies on piano, and by age 4, he was playing and singing in his father’s church. By age 10, he had made his first album.
A proud Okie: He was born and grew up in Muskogee, Okla., the city immortalized in the country hit “Okie From Muskogee” (1969) by Merle Haggard.
A multiple Grammy recipient: With six nominations so far, he has won two Grammy Awards, with the latest in 2014 for best gospel performance, “No Greater Love.”
A student of history as well as theology: He studied history at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, eventually working as a history instructor for four years before relocating in 1998 to Chicago to earn a master’s of divinity degree from Garrett Theological Seminary.
A passion for faith: He attributes his life’s work to passion. “It is my passion for Christ, the passion to inspire people through ministry, and my passion for music,” he said. “What comes from the heart reaches the heart. I believe that.”
TOP: Smoke Norful holds the Grammy Award he received for the gospel track “No Greater Love.”