Landing on top of Billboard's Top 200 chart is no easy feat in today's music scene. For gospel recording artist James Fortune, accomplishing chart-topping success across various platforms is a proven result.
Fortune recently defied the odds with the release of his third album, "Identity," which debuted in the top spot on Billboard's Gospel Christian and Independent Album charts, as well as landing at the number-seven slot on Billboard's Top 200 chart, not to mention topping the Christian/Gospel category on both Amazon and iTunes. Although the Texas native has amassed number-one success alongside his ensemble F.I.Y.A. (Free In Yahweh's Abundance) in the past with his previous singles, "Identity" marks his first top-ten album, outpacing the sales of much larger, mainstream performers.
"It was incredible, to be honest, because I didn't really get it at first when they said it. But then when they sent me the chart and I was able to see the album ahead of mainstream artists like Coldplay, Jay-Z and Kanye West ["Watch The Throne"], it was just like, 'Wow, people really connected because of the transparency that I've been able to give,'" Fortune recently admitted to The Huffington Post. "And I've been open to where I come from and my testimony. People are really connecting with that to say, 'Look, this is someone who is having financial problems just like me, someone who's providing for his family just like me, and now God has really blessed him.' And I think people are really appreciating that and they're showing it in their support of the album."
To Fortune's point, financial difficulties are just one of the hardships that have led him to his chart-topping success. He and his wife, Cheryl, in the mid- to late 2000s were among the many affected by the recession, when the pair became homeless. But in a twist, this same hardship resulted in Fortune's first number-one hit, "I Trust You," from his 2009 sophomore release, "The Transformation."
"Five years ago, as we went through our financial problems, my wife and I were laid off. So there was a time where we couldn't afford to keep up with all of our bills and our rent, so we had to move out," he recalled. "Our credit was really messed up and we couldn't get an apartment from the home we were in. And then it was just one night in a motel room that the Lord kind of just gave me that song, just speaking of 'You have to be able to trust me even when you don't know why you're going through what you're going through.' Because I was at a point where I was just really questioning God, and that's when I began penning the lyrics to that song in that motel room one night."
"So for that song to be birthed out of the lowest point of my life, what would seem like the end of my life, God was able to take that song and bless so many people and really turn it around, to end up turning it into one of the greatest days of my life," he continued. "So for me, it was just letting people know, 'Listen, it's never over until God says it's over. And if you can just trust him and if you can believe him, then he can do the same thing for you.' It's a situation where I didn't understand it then, because it seemed like God had abandoned me, but ultimately he was always there. He was just setting me up for the greatest blessing of my life."
To the F.I.Y.A. Music World CEO's surprise, "I Trust You" went on to make history by charting at the top of Gospel National Airplay chart for 30 consecutive weeks, bumping Marvin Sapp's crossover hit "Never Would've Made It," making it the longest running number-one single for any genre. The humbling experience of eclipsing his good friend has also led the two to discuss future music plans.
"Marvin Sapp is a good friend, and we talked about doing something on this album, but we were both working on our albums at the same time. (His album comes out in March.) So it wasn't the best timing, but there could be something in the near future."
Not one to rest on his laurels, Fortune looks forward to developing his wife's forthcoming, as-yet-untitled debut opus, tentatively set for a fall 2012 release. The luxury of being able to travel and work with his partner of 13 years (married for 10) has contributed to the couple's in-studio chemistry.
"We love the fact that we can travel and work together. Sometimes it can be difficult for the kids, of course, but sometimes she will stay back for them," he said. "But for the most part, I think we're blessed to be able to work together and be partners. I know that I have someone that I can trust and count on, and she does, too."
"She's such a phenomenal songwriter and vocalist. I really want this record to be from her heart and what God has given to her," he continued. "It's her album and I'm basically letting her make the decisions on how she wants her album to sound, I'm just giving feedback. But it's definitely going to be Cheryl Fortune and from her heart."