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5 Questions with James Fortune on Hardships and His New Album, 'Identity'

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James Fortune has seemingly had a meteoric rise to the spotlight in a short amount of time. But it has not been without painful hardships, disappointments and real sacrifice. If you’ve heard him sing his personal testimony put to music -- the song “I Trust You" -- you know just how far he’s come.

ESSENCE.com sat down with James Fortune to discuss the highs, the extreme lows and the release of his fifth album, "Identity."

ESSENCE.com: “I Trust You” was a huge Gospel hit. Where did that song come from?
JAMES FORTUNE: I was at one of the lowest points in my life. My family was homeless for seven months and I didn’t know what we were going to do. I was very discouraged, frustrated and disappointed with God. I had no choice but to put my trust in God. And “I Trust You” ended up being #1 for 29 weeks on the Gospel billboard charts and won ASCAP’s Gospel Song of the Year in 2009. I can remember when radio wouldn’t even play it. They said it sounded too much like Kirk Franklin. But the president of the label I was on at the time, Kerry Douglas, believed in the song so much he would not take no for an answer. I will never forget him for that.

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ESSENCE.com: How did your family end up homeless?
FORTUNE: My wife and I ran into some tough financial problems. We both got laid off from our jobs and I was only working at church part-time. It started with the cars being repossessed and eventually we couldn’t afford our house. We hid everything from our families. As a man, it was hard to handle. We never thought we would have to move out of our house. We thought things would work out. Our credit was so messed up; we couldn’t get approved for anything. We had two small children at the time and my wife was pregnant, so it was rough. But my wife never complained or blamed me for anything. She always supported me.

ESSENCE.com: When did things start to turn around?
FORTUNE: I ended up being promoted to the full time minister of music at the church where I was working and my wife was also brought on as a worship leader. From there, we were able to get back on our feet.

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ESSENCE.com: How do you deal with the Kirk Franklin comparisons?
FORTUNE: I have always been a Kirk Franklin fan. He is my biggest influence. I’ve been called a Kirk Franklin wannabe since the beginning and it used to bother me.  I knew God had called me to this.  I had all these songs inside me, but I couldn’t sing. I actually spoke to Kirk several times and he told me not to worry about what people had to say. He told me to be myself. So now, it’s like nothing to me.

ESSENCE.com: What was the inspiration for your new project “Identity?”
FORTUNE: I am so excited because this is the first project I put out on my own label in partnership with Light Records. But, the inspiration for Identity came from realizing that so many people don’t know who they are as Christians. People don’t realize what they have access to as believers and what they don’t have to put up with. So from this CD I want everyone to know who they are in Christ and get a real understanding of what Christ did for us!

Gerald Jones is the founder of Da Gospel Truth. You can also follow him on Twitter @dagospeltruth.

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