Rev. W.R. "Smokie" Norful, Jr. is an American gospel singer and pianist. Norful, a minister who is also the son of an African Methodist Episcopal Church minister, was born in Little Rock, Arkansas but grew up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and became deeply involved in his father's church. He was interested in music from a very young age. In 1998 he felt a calling to the ministry of the gospel, and pursued a Master of Divinity degree at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. He currently pastors Victory Cathedral Worship Center in Romeoville, IL, which he founded in September 2005.
Norful's music is best described as a fusion of gospel, 70's soul, and contemporary R&B while the influences of Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway and other male soul and R&B vocalists of the 70's and 80's are clear.
He participated in an album release by the Thompson Community Choir, a well-known gospel group, contributing a song as well as solo vocals. He was then offered the opportunity to make a solo album for EMI Gospel, resulting in his debut 2002 release “I Need You Now.” The album was a slow starter but eventually went gold, and eventually topped the Billboard Gospel Albums Chart. The lead single and title track made his first and only entry on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart, peaking at #96.
He won a Grammy in 2005 for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album for 2004’s “Nothing Without You.” The album, along with 2004’s “Limited Edition” were both #1 albums on the Billboard Gospel chart. He also signed to EMI-CMG Publishing and his own Norful Music Publishing as a songwriter.
In October 2006, Norful released his third album, “Life Changing.” “Life Changing” was his first album not to top the Billboard Gospel Albums chart, peaking at #2. Norful released his first live album in April 2009 and once again peaked atop the Billboard Gospel Albums chart. Entitled “Smokie Norful Live” it features the singles "Justified," "Jesus is Love" featuring Heather Headley, and "God's Gonna Come Through" featuring Tye Tribbett. “Live” also peaked at #55 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart, and #5 on the R&B Albums chart, his highest placement on both.