Some might call him “The Preacher,” but world-renowned turntablist Norman McHugh prefers to go by his stage name: DJ Stormin’ Norman.
McHugh is best known for showing off his mixing skills in Harlem, where he resides, and has been seen on Sunday afternoons in Morningside Park at “Sundae Sermon.” The outdoor event, which occurs every two Sundays from June to September, has turned into a must-be-there social gathering while also serving as a musical oasis feeding the many beat-savvy souls who attend.
However, aside from making a mark in New York City, McHugh’s sounds are known worldwide. One of the original DJs during hip-hop’s early days, he can be credited with helping shape one of the major elements of the genre.
Born and raised in the Forest Gate section of London, England, McHugh’s family moved to America when he was 15. He attended Iona College, where he was a star on the track team, even becoming nationally ranked. Recognized for his speed on the athletic field, he received the nickname “Stormin’ Norman.” The name stuck, turning into a staple as he became spinning royalty.
While at Iona, he studied broadcast journalism and a friend who left campus loaned him his turntables. That’s when McHugh began to experiment.
“I’m a self-taught DJ,” he said. “I had seen it done before. I just started playing two of the same records at the same time and making mixes. All of a sudden, it made sense to me.”
After some more experimenting with sounds, McHugh began perfecting his newfound talent. Getting connections from a record store, he began building his audio library that soon turned into hundreds of LPs.
McHugh soon became known at Iona for his craft by way of the campus radio station in the early 1990s at parties feeding hungry students with heart-pumping sounds as hip-hop began to sweep the nation.
At one of the first parties he did on campus where hundreds of people showed up, he built his own speakers. Fans praised him for playing artists such as A Tribe Called Quest, the Fat Boys and Eric B.
After graduating from college, McHugh pursued an acting career but still maintained his art of DJing. He got his first gig at WBLS, where he mixed on his own radio show called “The Thunderstorm,” which aired four times a week. He received the job after being discovered DJing at a local nightclub.
McHugh was one of the first DJs in the nation to broadcast live from nightclubs. He joined the ranks of other high profile DJs such as Grandmaster Flash. However, soon afterward, new ownership at the station got rid of all of the DJs and McHugh began a nearly four-year hiatus from his craft.
He left DJing in 2002 and began a career in real estate, which he is still involved with today. McHugh is also the father of a 19-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter.
“I checked out musically,” he said. “I was tired. Things didn’t move me anymore. I was getting older as well. I wasn’t being inspired anymore.”
After four years, with piles of records around his home, one of the stacks that reached the ceiling fell over and McHugh began looking through them. He dusted off his turntable, began playing music again and his inspiration was renewed.
During his time away from the turntables, DJs moved from using records to downloading MP3s and using Serato, a system of mixing without the use of vinyl records. One of his first gigs was a party on the Lower East Side.
He said, “I was very nervous. I hadn’t done it for so long in front of people and it felt like I never left. It was great. I started to play more at home, started to get gigs again and reached out to a network of people.”
McHugh’s revival not only brought back his status as a winning DJ but took him around the world. He has DJed across Europe, where hip-hop is heavily appreciated.
In 2007, McHugh started “Sundae Sermon” in Morningside Park, getting the idea after going to various music parties around the city and seeing the African Day Parade in Harlem. With very few outdoor music events for Harlmites, he stepped up to the plate.
With the help of sponsors including Uptown and Vibe magazines and Bikram Yoga of East Harlem, “Sundae Sermon” has gone from an attendance of 50 people to crowds of hundreds from around the city. Listeners who go to the event are as diverse as the music that is played.
The name “Sundae Sermon,” Norman says, comes from the feeling people get when they hear grooves forcing them to dance, similar to being moved by religion in church. But the event offers more than music, hosting various causes including health and wellness and mentoring. Films have even been shown at the gathering.
“I’m a very emotional DJ,” McHugh said. “When I play, I look at how I see a person with their eyes closed. That’s how I play. I’m giving them my soul when I play my music. It’s almost like being in the zone. When you play music, it’s almost like you don’t think.”
“Sundae Sermon” has three more events scheduled in Morningside Park on Aug. 28, Sept. 11 and Sept. 19. McHugh can also be heard on the first Friday of every month from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. on WHCR 90.3.