Hi, friends. February draws to a close, so I leave off with one more post for Black History Month. The four posts were related to church and music this year; I may pick a different theme next year, though I don’t want to because these are fun!
Many have heard of Aretha Franklin (R-E-S-P-E-C-T/ Find out what it means to me), but what about the man who raised her?
The Reverend C.L. Franklin
Rev. C.L. Franklin, originally named Clarence LaVaughn Walker, was born to sharecroppers in Sunflower City, Mississippi in 1915. His real father left when he was young, and he later adopted the surname “Franklin” from his stepfather. He started preaching in the black itinerant preaching circuit at age 16. [A circuit preacher officiates multiple churches at once due to finances, size, etc. My small UMC shares a pastor with another small UMC down the road.] His historical impact began when he landed a pastoral assignment at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan in 1946. He was one of the first to record his sermons and broadcast them via radio on Sundays; he acquired the nickname “The Man with the Million Dollar Voice.” He even went on speaking tours, adding a twist to the already popular idea of travelling gospel singers. Sadly, a violent home attack left Rev. Franklin in a coma for five years. He died in 1984.
Singer Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin was born in 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee (about four years before her father began preaching in Detroit). Rev. Franklin, a fine singer himself, recognized her talent early. She was playing the piano by ear before age 10. She sang solos at church, and when she was 14, Rev. Franklin started bringing her on his speaking tours to sing. Her first record in 1956 included Dr. King’s favorite hymn, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” She took an affection to Sam Cooke, the “King of Soul,” and he inspired her to venture into pop music. She signed with Columbia and began her career in secular music in 1960. Her first secular album dropped the following year. She was the first woman to receive a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, and from 1955-2012, Franklin had 88 songs make the Billboard chart. She is still living and performing, though she suffers from health issues.
Legacies Tainted by Scandal?
The idea for this post came from my witnessing rare video footage of a sermon by Rev. Franklin. An old professor who knew Rev. Franklin displayed the sermon in a conference presentation. I’d never heard of the reverend before that, but his sermon moved me in strange ways. His delivery was poetic, and as the sermon commenced, the room around me melted away, and I became entranced by his voice. I learned that the enrapturing method he used is called whooping.
I didn’t imagine that this post would differ from the others, but I’ve unexpectedly come across multiple sources with unflattering things to say about the Franklins. This article makes both intriguing and questionable assertions about black Christian music, the Franklins, and the Civil Rights Movement. Some of its accusations: he coerced the church into funding a mansion for his family, he evaded tens of thousands of dollars in taxes, he was a womanizer, etc. According to the Aretha Franklin biography entitled Respect, Franklin was a diva with an insatiable appetite for sex. She had her first son at age 12, and some say that her father’s example caused that. The worst accusation in my devout opinion, which is confirmed by R&B singer Ray Charles (look it up if you don’t believe me), is that gay and straight orgies occurred regularly in the church.
I don’t know what’s true and what isn’t, but assuming that the rumors have some basis in reality, this is just another tragic example of the dark side to fame and glory. For the better and the worse, we often sweep these things under the rug after cultural idols die, choosing to remember their best rather than their worst.
Now I better understand the purpose of recently deceased Billy Graham’s Modesto Manifesto. [Evangelists should avoid the temptations of greed, sexual immorality, etc.]
Thanks for reading! Did you already know about these rumors, or are they as shocking to you as they were to me?