Black History Month with UAPB: Kevin Cole & Smokie Norful

Black History Month

George Cotton with UAPB spoke with Pat Walker about two UAPB alums Kevin Cole and Smokie Norful.

Kevin Cole

       Kevin Earlee Cole, a Pine Bluff native, is one of the country’s most renowned mid-career artists.

  • He received his bachelor’s in art education in 1982, and over the last thirty-plus years, Cole has received 27 grants and fellowships, 66 awards in art, 51 teaching awards more than 45 public art commissions.
  • Those public art commissions include the Coca-Cola Centennial Olympic Mural for the 1996 Olympics and “Soul Ties That Matter,” a 55-foot-long installation created for Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in 2018.
  • The artist’s work is included in more than 3,600 public, private and corporate collections throughout the United States, including the
    • Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture Museum in Washington, D.C.
    • Tyson’s Foods headquarter in Bentonville
    • William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library
    • The Arkansas Art Center, now the Arkansas Museum of Fine Art
    • Morgan Stanley, UPS, The Coca-Cola Company, Bank of America, IBM
    • And of course the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
  • Cole is most well-known for his abstract “necktie” pieces, inspired by his grandfather, who was active in the civil rights movement
  • Kevin says that when he turned 18, his grandfather stressed the importance of voting by taking him to a tree where his grandfather said Blacks had been lynched by their neckties on the way to vote. Kevin says that left a profound impression on him.
  • Kevin states on his website: “My work is a universal story with both hero and villain, good and evil. The narrative is embedded like html code. It is not what one sees, but it can be decoded.”
  • And Cole’s art is in some famous homes around the world… those are the private collections I mentioned a moment ago, notably, NBA legend Michael Jordan and Darrell & Lisa Walker, Darrell is a former NBA Basketball Player and coach of men’s basketball at UA-Little Rock.
  • Among the numerous awards Kevin has received, he’s a recent inductee into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.

Smokie Norful

  1. This alumnus is dear to the hearts of 2020 graduates because he so graciously accepted our invitation to serve as the commencement speaker of UAPB’s first virtual commencement ceremony.
  • Smokie Norful is an award-winning recording artist, a pastor, educator and visionary who has reached the heights of success in both music and ministry.
  • His 2002 debut release, I Need You Now, catapulted him to worldwide recognition.
  • Since that time he has found commercial success with four number 1 Billboard Albums and more than 2.5 million albums sold worldwide.
  • Norful is a multiple gold-selling artist and has been named Billboard Magazine’s “Gospel Artist of the Year” twice.
  • He has earned several Stellar, Dove, Soul Train, NAACP Image and Grammy Awards.
  • Norful is an educator at heart and earned a Bachelor’s of Arts in history in 1995 before teaching junior and senior high school students for several years.
  • He went on to earn a Master of Divinity and launch Victory Cathedral Worship Center outside Chicago in 2005. He opened a second campus in Chicago in 2008.

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