Raspy-voiced choir director Kirk Franklin got around his limited vocal ability by channeling ideas through other singers, and repackaging gospel music with mainstream sensibilities. During the '90s the Ft. Worth songwriter put his hype man ad libs on rousing praise anthem hits like “Stomp” and “Revolution,” and paved a path for new gospel artists to reach big audiences outside the church.
His latest venture is a regular event called Kirk Franklin's Gospel Brunch, which he curates for House of Blues outlets around the country, including the Sunset Strip. Kicking off this Sunday, Mother's Day, it continues on selected Sundays in May and June, and features a Southern inspired buffet and a performance by artists picked by Franklin. We spoke with him about this venture — he made it sound well worth the $42 — as well as issues like his tumultuous childhood and pornography addiction.
How are you bringing your genre-bending approach to the Gospel Brunch?
I think this will expand what I'm trying to do, which is [spread] a message that's more easily expressed through music than the pulpit. So, keeping faith-based content in the marketplace. [We're] taking their brunch, that's happened over the last 20 years, and re-branding it and stirring it up with a new sound in different markets. They done a really great job revamping their brunch and with their presentation; they created video content that the audience can enjoy. We made the live performance more special.
You had kind of a double life for a little while, struggling with pornography and sexual promiscuity while doing gospel music. How does an up and coming gospel artist avoid these pitfalls?
It wasn't necessarily a double life, it was an undisciplined life. It was a life without leadership and direction. It was the life of millions of young black men who are fatherless and don't have male leadership in their lives, who are trying to find out the path of their own. There's going to be a lot of casualties of war when people have to live that way. When young men have to raise themselves, there can be a lot of bad things that can happen. That was my life.
I would tell [up and coming artists] to seek mentors. Seek out people who you can hear, people who you can talk to and ask them for their trust. Reach out to people who you can talk to, who you can listen to, who you can trust.
What about artists (like Tonex) who have burned-out with gospel music?
You heart has to be bigger than the music. It has to be deeper than how you feel about the music. It has to be your own personal choice and relationship on who God is to you and how much will you allow that to be the dictator of your life. And for me, gospel music is not my life — the God of the gospel is my life. Music is just one of the expressions of my appreciation.
You've aimed to modernize gospel live performances. Where do you want gospel music to go?
I think gospel music will always go where the gospel is. I think that the gospel is going to reflect what people's hearts are. I really believe it is a message that is still relevant in these days and time. And as long as I pursue not just gospel music but the gospel itself and what the gospel looks like in my own personal life…the genre will stay alive because of those who embrace it as their truth. Those are choices people make in their own personal lives that will be expressed publicly through the music. So if I don't believe God privately it would be hard for my music to reflect that power publicly.
What advice would you give someone with a strained relationship with a family member?
Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Forgiveness is not even so much about the other person; it has to do with you. I would always challenge everyone to really dig deep and trust God with that healing process, and the forgiveness issue within yourself. Some things you've got to put in God's hands and let Him take you through that process. Forgiveness is free but trust is earned.
You wrote heartfelt music like “Mama's Song” and “Til We Meet Again”, inspired by the great aunt who adopted you. As a person who was adopted and as a family man, what does Mother's Day mean to you?
Mother's Day is a very difficult, because that's the lady that raised me, the lady that adopted me was a special lady. I really miss her. It's a very tough holiday but I'm glad to have a wife who is a great mother to our children and I celebrate her and her mother, and that's a very special thing.