Gospel singer goes from homelessness to top charts
ATLANTA (AP) -- James Fortune used to watch his children sleep in the bathtub before he lay beside his pregnant wife at night in a motel, wondering how he was going to provide for his family the next day.
For the gospel singer, being homeless for seven months in 2007 was the most strenuous stint of his life. The constant letdown of watching others get hired for jobs while he and his wife Cheryl went overlooked weakened his faith. He asked in a prayer why God seemingly abandoned them during their most stressful time.
But during his prayer, Fortune said he went from being emotionally stifled to at peace. That's when he was led to write the words to his 2009 hit song, "I Trust You," which topped the Gospel National Airplay chart for 28 straight weeks
"I questioned God," he recalled.
"It seemed like God wasn't even there and had forgotten about us because we saw other people get hired and prospering," he continued. "It seemed like the lowest point. But in that situation, God gave me the song that changed my life."
The 32-year-old Fortune and his ensemble called F.I.Y.A (Free In Yahweh's Abundance) recently released their fourth album "Identity," which debuted in the top spot on Billboard's Gospel, Christian and Independent album charts. He is a rising a star in the genre and has opened concerts for some of gospel's best, including Kirk Franklin, Shirley Caesar, Yolanda Adams and Fred Hammond.
Last year, Fortune launched FIYA World Music Group with his wife, who is the vice president of the record label. Life is totally different these days for the Fortunes, who are now have their own home in Houston.
"It's a beautiful testimony," Franklin said of the Fortunes. "It's amazing how God takes people that have had horrible experiences and (they) use it as a tool to write songs and music that will speak to other people who are going through the same things. It's amazing how God takes lemons and makes them into lemonade."
Fortune lost his job at a water company and his wife was laid off from an insurance company when their employers decided to downsize five years ago. Even though he and F.I.Y.A. already had an album out three years before, it was not a lucrative project.
The only stream of income the Fortunes had was through the singer's part-time position as minister of music at Higher Dimension Church in Houston. But they had more bills than money and struggled to pay medical bills since they had no health insurance, they said.
As a result, Fortune along with his pregnant wife and two children — who were 2 and 1 years old at the time — were evicted from their home and couldn't afford to keep one of their cars. For the first couple of months, they loaded up in their only car until it was repossessed, which prompted them to move from one motel to another.
During the whole time, Fortune and his wife told none of their family members or friends of their circumstances.
"Pride got in the way," said Cheryl Fortune. "We didn't want them to know how far we had fallen. It would always seem like something would always come through. We just tried to figure it out by ourselves."
Cheryl Fortune said she often read the Bible and focused mainly on scripture Jeremiah 29:11 to give her strength each day. She wanted to bring light to the situation for her children and support her husband.
The Fortunes survived off the money they saved from their previous jobs and through several performances.
"For a man to not be able to provide, it almost makes them seem like they're nothing," she said. "But I really kept praying. I prayed not to be a nagging wife. ... I prayed every day to keep my attitude positive regardless where we were."
All those days of James and Cheryl Fortune wondering when they would find a job finally ended after seven months. He was promoted to a full-time position at Higher Dimension and his wife found a job with health benefits.
With income flowing in and the family no longer homeless, Fortune threw himself into music, penning "I Trust You" and "I Believe," which earned him his second ASCAP Writer's Award in 2010.
Now, James Fortune looks at their situation as a "living testimony." For those who are struggling to find a job and may have found themselves homeless, he hopes his music and story can help others pull through like the lyrics of "I Trust You" did for him.
"We are an example, a demonstration of God's power and sovereignty," he said. "To us, we really didn't know what God was doing. But the whole time, he was just setting us up for a great blessing."
Follow Jonathan Landrum Jr. on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/mrlandrum31
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