Bobby 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 as a poor black kid surrounded by violence and gangs in the inner city. As a youth, Bobby wondered “What could a 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 grow both as 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, glee club, poetry recitals and talent shows. “Whenever I performed, I wouldn’t stutter.” he said.
His career began as a stand-up comedian in 1975 at local St. Louis comedy clubs and as an actor with The St. Louis Black Repertory Company. 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.” Along the way, he discovered the human brain is just naturally hardwired for storytelling.” 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 promoted themes of character education, literacy, and storytelling. In 2018, Bobby was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters (DHL) by the University of Missouri-St. Louis and was invited to deliver the commencement address to the College of Arts & Sciences.
Many people describe Bobby as an adventure story come to life! His high energy performances combine lively animation, unique sound effects, amazing facial expressions and laugh out loud humor to engage, entertain and educate audiences of all ages. His performances promote literacy, cultural diversity, living history, music and character education.