Larry Norman's tragic post-mortem
Allegations of infidelity, fathering a child out of wedlock, and manipulating fellow CCM artists mar in death what was a pioneering life of making music
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Most of the stories published following the death of the Christian music legend Larry Norman last February summarized his pioneering role in the launching of "Jesus rock" and the far-reaching influence of his music. Several cited his history of broken relationships (two ex-wives, ex-friends including Contemporary Christian Music [CCM] artists Randy Stonehill, Daniel Amos, Tom Howard, and Steve Scott), but none mentioned what may have been Norman's most severely broken relationship of all-because the woman at the center of it had remained silent for 18 years.
The silence was broken on May 10, when Christian journalist Mark Joseph posted an open letter (dated April 28) on his Bully Pulpit News website from an Australian woman calling herself "Jennifer McCallum." It read in part, "[O]ne of [my] children, Daniel Robinson, was fathered by Larry Norman. And, for the last few years . . . and in the immediate aftermath of his passing, I have fought a losing cause to get recognition for . . . Daniel, by either Larry or the Norman family." McCallum went on to say that she had become pregnant with Daniel during a "10-week tour of Russia in 1989."
McCallum was actually Jennifer Wallace. ("McCallum" had been her surname when she toured with Norman in 1988 and 1989). Her letter provoked a lengthy rejoinder from Norman's younger brother Charles, who with his wife Kristin currently oversees Norman's Solid Rock record label. He dismissed Wallace's allegations as "more than a bit suspicious," questioning her truthfulness and her timeline. "Any Larry Norman fan can tell you," he wrote, "that there never was a 10-week tour [or a tour of any length] in Russia in 1989." (The tour, it turns out, actually began in 1988.)
A debate ensued on chat boards where the two letters were posted. It intensified when Sandi Stonehill-wife of CCM artist Randy Stonehill- joined: "Larry always said [Daniel] . . . was a horrible rumor started by someone who wanted to ruin his career," Sandi wrote in an April 30 posting. "Daniel is not a rumor."
In fact, for years the Stonehills themselves had heard only stories. Then, after a 2006 Randy Stonehill concert in Australia, Daniel introduced himself to them.
Sandi posted her letter, she told WORLD, because on the chat sites "people were bashing [Jennifer] . . . when I knew that she has been raising Larry's son with no help from him." Concert promoters and ministers in Australia "knew about this child," she said, "and they knew he was Larry's son."
One such promoter was David Smallbone, the father of the CCM performer Rebecca St. James. Now based in the United States, Smallbone organized Norman's Australian tours during the 1970s and 1980s and was the promoter whom Norman first approached about organizing the 1988-89 tour on which, according to Wallace, Daniel was conceived.
Smallbone told WORLD he refused Norman's offer because Norman had been performing in Australia so frequently that without a new album to promote the tour would "probably fail." It was then, according to Smallbone, that Norman turned to "his two biggest fans in Australia." "One was Jenny," he said, "and they put the tour together."
"I think the tour was a bit of mini-disaster," Smallbone said. "You had two incredibly supportive people being manipulated by Larry, and there was a history of Larry taking advantage of people who loved him."
Midway through the tour, which eventually encompassed Russia and other countries, Larry fired the other Australian "fan." Sometime afterward, Smallbone believes, "because there was now no longer any accountability, [Larry] slept with Jennifer, who was incredibly devoted to him and no doubt loved him. And out of that the baby arrived."
In an email to WORLD, Vic Campbell, another Australian Christian music promoter, wrote, "There is no doubt in my mind that Daniel is Larry's son. . . . The so-called CCM community here, especially those of us in Melbourne, acknowledged this from the start. . . . It has always been something of an 'open secret' here."
Wallace herself has never doubted that Norman was Daniel's father. "We were completely in one another's company every day for 10 weeks," she told WORLD. According to Wallace, Norman proposed to her in September 1988, a time, she said, that both he and she were separated, and anticipating divorces, from their respective spouses.
There would be no wedding. Shortly after his birth, Daniel was diagnosed with myoclonic epilepsy, and doctors requested his genetic history. But, according to Wallace, Norman had "gone AWOL" and could not be reached. Finally, she called Contemporary Christian Music magazine. "I knew that [then CCM editor] John Styll would know where he was," she said.
Wallace said it was not her intention to reveal to Styll the reason for her call, although she knew she might have to. Eventually she did: "My thought at the time was, our son's life is worth more than your career."
According to Wallace, when Norman learned she had spoken to Styll, he broke the engagement and accused her of malice-an accusation he never retracted.
"Do you know the reason I've been poor for the last 17 years?" he wrote Daniel, then 16, in an email dated May 17, 2006 (one of many WORLD has seen and verified). "Because your mother called up the most important magazine in Christian music and told them something. . . . So the magazine talked to people all over America and I stopped getting concerts and I became broke." (Wallace estimates Norman's total financial contribution toward Daniel's upbringing at less than $10,000. Norman's own website claims that "[f]or years Larry has supported poor children around the world through different organizations such as Compassion and Christian Children's Fund" and that "[a]t the moment Solid Rock is responsible for 24 children.")
Norman's May 17, 2006, email also contains a tacit admission of guilt. "I fell in love with your mother," he wrote. "I didn't want to have sex with her in the first place. I told her we should wait until we were married but she kept pushing . . . and I finally gave in because I was the weaker person in the relationship." Norman blamed his weakness on the lingering effects of head injuries he had suffered in an airplane accident in 1978. "I had brain damage," he wrote, "and I couldn't find the words to argue with her about it."
In other emails, several signed "Dad," Norman wrote Daniel that he had told "everyone" in his family about his son-his brother Charles included.
Charles denies ever being told about Daniel by Larry. "I've been living in Europe for the last 12 years," he told WORLD, "and didn't talk to Larry much for the last five years or so." He also said that he has not seen any of his brother's emails to Daniel, despite having hired a lawyer to request proof from the Wallaces of their claims. "It would've been nice if Jennifer had sent me some of that stuff when I asked for any sort of credibility," he said. According to Charles, all Wallace has provided is a faxed copy of Daniel's birth certificate containing no father's name.
Charles is also skeptical of Wallace's motives. He believes that the filmmaker David Di Sabatino, who is preparing an unauthorized Norman documentary, is "behind" Wallace's belated public declaration and using it as "some kind of PR campaign, which would seem to serve the purpose of publicity for his movie."
"If indeed [what Wallace is saying] is true," he asked, "why didn't she bring this up when [Larry] was around to defend himself?"
Wallace, who eventually remarried in 2006, said she remained quiet because for years she "want[ed] to . . . hold on to the fact that there was still possibly some future [with Norman]," she said. "I was a little bit slow on the uptake there, I guess."
Daniel grew up expecting to be acknowledged by Norman, who in later years invited him to Salem, Ore., where Norman lived. "I'm so happy that I'm coming to see you," Daniel wrote Norman in a February 2006 email. "In a way it's just an empty gap in my heart that needed to be filled." The visit never took place.
According to Wallace, it was Daniel's reaction to discovering that Norman had broken one last "promise"-to include Daniel in his will-that prompted her to go public. "[I]n the throes of a very dark moment," she wrote in her April 28 open letter, Daniel "spoke of committing suicide."
The matter might have been resolved privately. After learning in March that Wallace had posted the first version of her allegations on a message board set up on Norman's official website for fans to reminisce, Charles and Kristin called her and said they would pay for a DNA test and fly her and Daniel to Salem to attend Norman's memorial service.
When the Normans were slow to follow up, Wallace took matters into her own hands. Besides circulating her April 28 letter, she and her husband hired a lawyer in Salem, who on May 23 sent Charles and Kristin's lawyer a letter requesting a three-way DNA test, a request to which, as of this writing, there has been no response.
Wallace believes Charles is "doing all [he] can to drag this out so it will cost us a great deal more in legal fees" and has set up a blog to solicit donations. Charles, however-who has received word from a DNA consultant that it is not from him but from Michael Norman (Norman's son by his second marriage) that testable DNA would be needed-insists he has nothing to do with either the delay or the test itself.
He also resents the Wallaces' aggressively public approach and is in no hurry to play by their rules. "If the Wallaces want to come over here and be friendly and be part of the family," he said, "they're kind of going about it in the wrong way. . . . I'm not going to do this crap in the court of the internet with all these people setting up chat rooms and basically putting Larry on trial. . . . And I certainly don't appreciate that my family is being attacked."
Charles concedes, however, that Daniel may be part of that very family. "[He] might be Larry's child," he said. "[He] might not. I have no idea."
David Smallbone acknowledges that, if a DNA test finally takes place and confirms what he and the rest of the Australian CCM community have long believed, Norman's "reluctan[ce] to support the mother and the child . . . is a very sad reflection on [his] character."
But he also believes the story is important for a broader reason. "I think Larry started off passionate about sharing Jesus through music," he said. "But then I think compromise came into his life, and his behavior changed. He became manipulative."
For the sake of Christian music "we need to get this story out," he said, "so when other people are successful, they realize that this is a high calling and they don't go down the road that Larry Norman went down, which, at the end of the day, was tragic."
(Note: This article has been corrected to reflect that Mark Joseph posted a letter from Jennifer McCallum [Wallace] on his Bully Pulpit News website.)
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