Grammy nod goes to Norful 

Thanks to Ted Wagnon, founding editor of Arkansas Business and for the past several years a corporate media executive, for tipping us to the Grammy Award given Sunday to Smokie Norful for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album. Norful lives in Chicago and bases his national tours out of there now, but when he was 14, in 1987, his father moved the family from Muskogee, Okla., to Pine Bluff, where Dr. W.R. Norful still heads up the St. John African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. W.R. Norful is a Camden native. Norful was a singing prodigy at age 4 in Muskogee, and was a singing sensation around Pine Bluff –- Wagnon was living in Pine Bluff and his daughter was in a choir with Smokie — before he left for the University of Arkansas to study history. After four years teaching history, he decided to pursue a master’s degree in divinity in Chicago. His singing talent was soon noticed in the Windy City, where he was asked to sing an original song on an album with the Thompson Community Choir, and his professional gospel music career took off. Norful also recently was named the No. 1 gospel artist of the year by Billboard magazine for the second year in a row. “Nothing Without You,” which earned Norful the Grammy on Sunday night, was the follow-up to the CD “I Need You Now,” which earned gold record status for more than 500,000 in sales. About the time the Norfuls were moving to Pine Bluff, I was headed out of there for Little Rock, but I still noted the Norful name on the Pine Bluff athletic fields. What a talented family. Smokie Norful has a church-based concert tour planned for 2005 as well as the late March release of a concert DVD. Look for him on BET’s “Celebration of Gospel V,” scheduled for a Feb. 22 broadcast. His website, www.smokienorful.com, offers samples of his music and his passionate delivery. Texas honky-tonk legend Jerry Jeff Walker has been lined up for a concert in Little Rock to help Jimmie Lou Fisher retire campaign debt from her 2002 run for governor. The singer-songwriter and quintessential storyteller is set to appear on the Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s main stage March 21. Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets are $100 for general admission and $250 for VIP tickets, which will include a reception attended by Walker. The debt at one time was $275,000 and is down to $23,000, according to Vincent Insalaco, who was Fisher’s campaign manager. “We’re going to have a note-burning ceremony while we’re there, and Jerry Jeff’s going to help with it,” Insalaco said. Jacksonville Guitar Center and owner Steve Evans have stepped up as a major sponsor for the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase, offering the winner on March 4 a $300 gift certificate. Our thanks to Evans and Jacksonville Guitar for recognizing the importance of local original music. There’s a local music connection in the store as well: Bob Appleby of the group Rev. Appleby has worked at Jacksonville Guitar for years. After two weeks of excruciatingly close judges’ decisions in the Musicians Showcase, last week’s third round almost could be considered a runaway –- anything more than 3 points would have been the biggest margin yet — as Jonesboro’s Further Down advanced to the March 4 finals. But the surprising Conway duo Stone Mountain made it competitive, not to mention fun, with its unique rock/modern-folk sound. Also, we look for big things in the future from young country act Highway 5, and especially its lead singer, who has one of the best voices we’ve heard in these parts in a long time. Semifinalist D.J. Dirtbag gave the Showcase a nice change of pace with his hip-hop show, but some technical difficulties limited his offering to about 15 minutes. The last semifinal, set for Thursday, Feb. 17, could be as closely contested as the second week, when one point separated three bands — Fayetteville’s the Odds advanced over solid performers the Frup and FreeVerse. This week, the lineup features 30 Percent Grey, Beau Nixon and the Big Machine, the Boswells and Temper Effect, with the latter being the heaviest of that mostly modern pop-rock offering. You will be entertained by these four acts. Admission is $5 and the show starts at 9 p.m. KMJX-FM, Magic 105, and Juanita’s are main sponsors of this Showcase, now in its 15th year, its eighth to be sponsored by Arkansas Times. Along with Jacksonville Guitar Center, prize sponsors include Blue Chair Studio in Cabot, Trio’s Restaurant, Red Bull, Harbor Distributing, Riverfest and the Peabody-Little Rock. The winning band will get a guaranteed spot in Riverfest as well as a spot on the Peabody’s summer concert lineup.

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