‘They call me the gospel storyteller’; Dorothy Norwood reflects on her journey

After recording 53 albums, Grammy-nominated gospel singer Dorothy Norwood could simply relax and reflect on her career, but the city of Atlanta native said she’s not done yet.

Norwood, 85, started her career as a child, performing with her own family in the 1940s. By the 1950s she was performing with Mahalia Jackson, a music legend known as “The Queen of Gospel Song.”

Norwood is currently writing an autobiography and working on a new album titled, “The Journey Continues.”

The longtime Alpharetta resident was honored by Alpharetta City Council Monday with a proclamation that heralded her career. Mayor Jim Gilvin said he didn’t know of Norwood until recently.

The singer talked to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from her home Monday afternoon via teleconference sharing memories from her career, including her work with Jackson, Aretha Franklin and a 1972 tour as an opening act for The Rolling Stones.

Norwood is a traditional gospel singer with vocals that summon the depths of emotion felt at the peak of Sunday church service. She’s known for such songs as “Somebody Prayed for Me,” “Shake Off the Devil” and “Victory is Mine,” which was featured in the 2011 film “The Help.”

Norwood was nominated for nine Grammy Awards between 1980 and 2006, according to the Recording Academy. And she was one of many gospel stars to perform in the Chicago-based ensemble, The Caravans. The group was led by another gospel legend, Albertina Walker, in the 1950s and ’60s, and featured such names as Shirley Caeser and James Cleveland.

Norwood sang as a child in church on Atlanta’s Simpson Street where her father was pastor. By age 8, she was touring with her family, known as the Norwood Gospel Singers.

Norwood told the AJC that in the 1950s, she set aside plans to attend Morris Brown College to go to Chicago where gospel was thriving. Her first night there she went to a church where Jackson was performing. Norwood said she seized an opportunity to sing for the audience, which impressed Jackson. The much older gospel singer invited Norwood to join her on the road.

“…I haven’t had a job since,” Norwood said. “Nothing but singing.”

In 1972, Mick Jagger invited the singer to perform on tour with The Rolling Stones. The rocker was looking for a singer in her genre to open the band’s tour, she said. Norwood signed on to the band’s 30-state American tour.

Stevie Wonder joined them at one point, she added.

Her nearly completed album, “The Journey Continues,” will be a follow-up to her previous release, “An Incredible Journey.”

“They call me the gospel storyteller,” Norwood said.

Grammy-nominated gospel singer Dorothy Norwood was honored with a proclamation by Alpharetta City Council. Alpharetta Mayor Jim Gilvin (right) said he recently learned of Norwood and her career. Photo courtesy Gene Andrews

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