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Grammy-winning Chicago gospel singer ‘providing hope through song’

Smokie Norful says the world doesn’t need more religion. Instead, people need “more relationship, more fellowship with God.” Listen to "Face to Faith" podcast. | Provided photo

Smokie Norful, Grammy-winning gospel performer, grew up in Arkansas and Oklahoma, “really a Southerner at heart,” now senior pastor of a nondenominational Christian church with branches on the Far South Side and in Bolingbrook, recently became an author, doesn’t believe the Bible “to be a metaphorical book.”

Norful, 44, has “been in the music business, both as a songwriter and a recording artist, for almost 20 years now.”

Married with three kids, he’s also pastor at Victory Cathedral Worship Center.


His dad “pastored for 45 years . . . I grew up in the parsonage which literally was right next door to the church . . . It was inevitable that I would take some role in ministry, but I certainly didn’t think that it would be his role.”

His parents moved to Chicago area, now are part of Norful’s congregation.

Says of his dad: “Now he’s retired, and I’m his pastor.”


Grew up in the African Methodist Episcopal tradition, or AME, which Norful describes as “very rich, very structured, very orderly.”

Was in the children’s choir, started “picking out melodies” on a toy piano when he was 3.

When he was 4, an old piano was on his back porch, waiting to be thrown out or given away. He started playing. His mom ran out wondering who it was.

“I was allowed by my parents to be very ecumenical,” visited other churches that were more “expressive” and “passionate about their worship.”

Came to experience God “in my own unique way.”


As he found success with his music, Norful stopped going to church services for a “season.”

“My recording career had taken off . . . It became everything I dreamt of, but I did not have inner peace.

“I call it a sabbatical, but really it was rebellion . . . When the cameras would go off, when the lights would dim, there was still something missing.”

“Ultimately realized” he needed to embrace his “call . . . I needed to serve others, not just to minister to them in song . . . bless them . . . teach them who God is and utilize the first call” in his life.

Having attended seminary “long before I became a recording artist,” says he realized “I could do both.”


Has won two Grammy awards.

The video for one of his songs, “I Need You Now,” has had more than 4.3 million views on YouTube.


Norful’s congregation is nondenominational Christian, a “melting pot” of more than 5,000 members, some who’d been in different traditions, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Catholic and Methodist.


“Hope, healing and empowerment” are part of the “foundation” of his music and preaching.


“I don’t think gospel music is dying. I think, as with everything else in the world, it’s changing, it’s evolving.”

What is gospel music?

“It is providing hope through song.”


Smokie Norful performing during the 2007 Essence Fest at the Superdome in New Orleans. | AP

Some of his music fans have gone overboard at times, expressing a “fixation” with him, and he now has “restraining orders” against people.


Says of Bible, “I don’t believe it to be a metaphorical book . . . I think it is the word of God.”


“You can see threads of Christ from Genesis through Revelations,” in other words, from the start of the Old Testament to the end of the New Testament.


Just wrote a book called “Take the Lid Off: Trust God, Release the Pressure, and Find the Life He Wants for You.”

In the book, he writes: “We’re trapped in a boiling pot of broken hearts and shattered dreams. . . . When we finally take the lid off, we can more fully engage in the life God has created for us and live out the potential we were intended to fulfill.”

Book mentions God giving second chances, and more: “I think it’s a boundless and endless amount.

“I don’t think there are sins that are unforgivable . . . All of us should say thank you to God for that.”


“I believe hell exists. I believe there’s a heaven and a hell,” and the “unsaved” end up in hell.


Doubts or questions are “a natural progression of building faith.”


Says the world doesn’t need more religion. Instead, people need “more relationship, more fellowship with God.”


Face to Faith appears Sundays in the Chicago Sun-Times, with an accompanying audio podcast, with additional content, available at chicago.suntimes.com and on iTunes and Google Play.

Smokie Norful. | AP

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