Believer, father, husband, gospel songwriter and choir director Kirk Franklin has been an influential figure, particularly in the gospel community, since 1992. With over two decades of experience in the industry, Franklin has no difficulty focusing on inclusion and love by producing gospel music for all people to connect with, regardless of their ethnicity or background.
Indeed, his ability to reach out to his brothers and sisters of all ethnicities is renowned. In 2015, he dedicated his artistry to collaborating with gospel artists like Tamela Mann, Tasha Cobbs-Leonard and contemporary Christian singer Sarah Reeves on his album “Losing My Faith.” His single from the album, “My World Needs You,” represents not only a plea to God for the strength to survive in a world with violence and other tragedies, but also to learn to love and connect with people from all around the globe.
Ultimately, just as God wants people to love each other as themselves, the song is an anthem for love and a dismissal of hate. In it, Franklin urges followers of Christ to move away from negativity in all aspects of their life, whether hypocrisy, judgment or any number of enticing temptations. Like other songs in his canon, “My World Needs You” espouses a human solidarity, as it encourages outward signs of unity, such as standing together, creating action through song, participating in marches and attending important events.
Perhaps of all his recent collaborations, however, Franklin’s recent project with Tori Kelly for the release of her gospel album, “Hiding Place,” has swayed the minds and captivated the ears of music lovers around the world. What was initially supposed to be just one song co-written by the two of them soon became an entire album. “ … basically one song turned into a whole album of songs. We kept rolling them out. It was just such a fun experience,” Kelly told Idolator.
Beyond his collaborations with prominent musicians, Franklin has had a hand in a number of other projects designed to advance his career as a gospel musician. As a prominent choral minister, Franklin has led a number of contemporary urban gospel choirs, including the Kirk Franklin and the Family, God’s Property and One Nation Crew (1NC). Using his gift of songwriting to create hits for these groups led him to receive multiple awards, including 13 Grammy Awards. His first, for the gospel album “Whatcha Lookin’ 4” with God’s Property, came in 1997, and his latest, which came alongside Tori Kelly for her single, “Never Alone,” came in 2018.
But Franklin’s success did not come easy. The musician’s early childhood experiences have shaped him into the powerhouse he is today. As a child, Franklin was part of the 2 to 4 percent of United States children who were adopted from foster care, private domestic or international adoption. Born in Fort Worth, Texas, he was adopted by his great aunt Gertrude Franklin. Franklin referred to his aunt as “the angel that raised me as a kid.”
At the age of 4, Franklin worked tirelessly to become a pianist, eventually receiving a contract offer at the age of 7. Unfortunately, his aunt did not allow Franklin to partake in this opportunity, especially at his young age. Nonetheless, there was no doubt that Franklin possessed a special talent.
Not only was his ability to read and write music remarkable, but Franklin was able to play the piano by ear — a telltale sign of a talented musician. He later expressed his talents at Mt. Rose Baptist Church, where he served as the choir director for the congregation’s adult choir. Later, Franklin further developed his pianist skills when he studied with Jewell Kelly and the Singing Chaparrals at Oscar Dean Wyatt High School in Fort Worth, Texas, where he received musical direction from Kelly and other directors.
Although now Franklin has a strong religious background, this wasn’t always the case. In high school, Franklin was sidetracked and eventually expelled for alleged behavioral troubles. But straying from his religious roots was short lived. When Franklin lost a close friend, he immediately turned to religion to heal. “I was 15 when my dude got killed and when he got killed is when I got closer to faith,” Franklin told the website Black America. “That’s when I really just developed my own relationship with the Lord.” The aftermath of this tragedy led Franklin to return to church as a choir director.
In the early 2000s, Franklin evolved into a solo gospel artist, though he still collaborated with and featured other artists in his work. For example, he singlehandedly wrote and produced the soundtrack for the comedy film “Kingdom Come,” which features popular artists such as Mary Mary, Crystal Lewis, Trin-i-tee 5:7 and Shawn Stockman of Boys II Men. In 2002, his album “The Rebirth of Kirk Franklin,” which features Bishop T.D. Jakes, Shirley Caesar, TobyMac and Yolanda Adams, stayed on Billboard’s gospel albums chart for a total of 29 weeks and was certified platinum.
Franklin released his most popular album to date, “Hero,” in October 2005. Shortly after the album’s release, the Recording Industry of America certified it gold in December 2005 and then platinum in December 2006. “Hero” features singles like “Looking for You” and “Imagine,” both of which reached the top of multiple R&B charts. Not only that, but his album took the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Top Christian and Top Gospel albums. To top it off, “Hero” was awarded two Grammys in December 2006 and received the Stellar Awards CD of the Year in 2007.
In 2013, Franklin teamed up with RCA records to create a joint music label and recording company, Fo Yo Soul Recordings. Bands like The Walls Group and artists such as Tasha Page-Lockhart have since signed with the group. Franklin and his team have enjoyed a number of successes from this venture, receiving 12 musical awards since 2013.
Whether you like gospel music or not, Franklin’s beats and lyrics are certainly worthy of your listening. And if you don’t want to listen, check out his social media for more inspiring thoughts, like this tweet from last November where Franklin states, “Like you, I love the color changes of fall…how overnight what was has now become a reflection of autumn breathing a new season. Amazing how nature is the microphone of life. Don’t give up…things are changing.”
What a powerful message to reflect on. Thank you, Kirk Franklin, for your inspiration through song!