Bobby Norfolk grew up a shy child in North St. Louis with a debilitating stutter. Son of an elevator operator and confectionery clerk, Norfolk's future was hazy when he was young. As a youth, Bobby wondered “What could a lost, lonely, discouraged kid from the low-rent blocks of St. Louis do with the rest of his life?”
Norfolk's path toward storytelling and success began in 1961 when he suddenly overcame his stutter when performing in a fourth-grade poetry recital. From that moment, his teachers helped him to grow as both an individual and a performer.
“They saw things in me I didn't see in myself, which is the mark of a master teacher, to see inside the student with low self-esteem (who) hasn't found his or her gifts,” Norfolk said in a recent interview. His teachers put him in drama class, Greek club, poetry recitals and talent shows. “Whenever I performed, I wouldn't stutter.” he said.
Bobby began his career as a stand-up comedian in 1975 at local St. Louis comedy clubs and as an actor with The St. Louis Black Repertory Co. Concurrently, he worked ten years at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis as a National Park Service Ranger. In 1979, Bobby made his first appearance as a storyteller at the St. Louis Storytelling Festival, and discovered that through storytelling he was able to combine his theatre and stand-up comedy background to become a “story-performer.” After a Scott Joplin performance at a school in Ladue, MO three teachers said: “Mr. Norfolk, we’ve been talking and we decided that you remind us of a clean Richard Pryor!”
In television, Bobby won three Emmy awards as the host of the CBS TV show “Gator Tales” and also hosted the Emmy nominated series “Children’s Theater at Bobby’s House.” Both shows were based out of St. Louis and the themes were character education, literacy, and storytelling.