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Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Kirk Franklin story


A small but loud man will soon stomp Kampala, and be sure the business of the world will momentarily halt. Not because the man is a self-professed radical for Christ with lots of money in the bank and a pretty wife, it’s his magnetism and unpretentiousness both on and off the stage that has won him a global following.

When his name, Kirk, was searched in Concise Oxford Dictionary (9th edition), it was found to mean a church –a Church of Scotland –to be precise. And his other, Franklin, means “a land owner of free but not noble birth in the 14th and 15th c. in England.”

You’ll find it interesting that Kirk Franklin does not belong to any church in Scotland, but it’s not farfetched to call him ‘church’; he has worked there almost all his life preaching sermons behind a beat, conducting church choir, playing the church piano and composing rousing gospel tunes.
Again, he’s non English (he’s African American) but certainly he’s a landowner. And although not of noble birth in the eyes of the world, Kirk Franklin himself will argue he has noble blood flowing in his system as a prince of God through Jesus Christ.

When he tells you that Jesus is his cornerstone, you are bound to believe him, especially after narrating the story of his birth. It’s a dark story of how his “real momma lived 15 minutes from me” (he was abandoned) until his aunt (Gertrude) rescued and reared him. He’ll also tell you how he struggled to forgive his mother, how he couldn’t stand her, how his sister was a “crackhead”, and about the first time he saw his father.

“He showed up at one of my concerts,” he was quoted on “I didn’t let him backstage, ‘cause how dare you not invest in my life but you want to be backstage? And you want to introduce me to all these kids that are your kids, like, hug your brother? Fool, please! I don’t know you.”

A troubled soul, Kirk Franklin shunned his spiritual upbringing, got dismissed from school for being rebellious, saw his best friend shot dead at 15, was accused by his peers of being a homosexual, impregnated his girlfriend at 17 and was obsessed with pornography.

You must remember that by the age of 11, Kirk Franklin was not your ordinary Kirk. He was the leader of the Mt. Rose Baptist Church Adult Choir – such an extraordinary feat by an extraordinary young boy.

It was after what I’ll literally call his second epiphany that Kirk Franklin appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2005 to admit his long addiction to pornography. It might have been viewed as the blackest stain to modern Christianity but his testimony continues to inspire young people to avoid the dangerous addiction.

Some critics actually believe he used Oprah to pump up his popularity like several artistes are wont but Kirk Franklin through numerous interviews has always insisted he wasn’t endorsing himself as the “New Messiah of Pornography” but that it was his wife who “thought it was a great idea” (for him to admit his addiction).

Besides, he once told, “If somebody calls me and wants me to share something that I hope can help other people, why wouldn’t I?”

That’s Kirk’s rhetoric, and he went on to assure his critics, “You ain’t gonna hear about me stealing no church money. You ain’t heard about me tipping on (my wife) Tammy with a chick or dude I ain’t been a down-low dude, I ain’t been nothing. Only thing you can be like is, Oh, I don’t like his music…”

See! Kirk is not the kind that smiles for the camera and cries in private, for he has absolutely nothing to hide. When ex-American president Bill Clinton was facing the adulterous crucible, Kirk Franklin said we all have some junk: “That’s why I think it was wrong for people to bash Clinton, because he ain’t the first one to cheat on his wife. He just happened to get caught. Everybody else needs to shut up and thank God for grace that he didn’t pull out their stank drawers!”

That’s the brutally honest Kirk Franklin –love him or despise him! And all this is personified in his music as well. At the height of his career in 1997, he was accused of being too radical. Kirk hit back with what has come to be one of his most loved revolutionary songs –Stomp. In it, the opening words crack like a bullet from an old pistol: “For those of you that think gospel music has gone too far, you think we got too radical for Christ. Well I got news for you, you ain’t heard nothin yet…”

It’s this charged but adorable stance that has garnered him cult status in both worlds –the secular and the Christian.

As I type this at home this morning, I’m watching him on Top TV, in his fabled Mr. Hair-like long white coat, swinging hither and thither with so much disco energy that I flail my arms in the air and nearly put on my dancing shoes.

“1,2,3 C’mon!” he shouts as Awesome God picks rhythm and the entire church goes wild. He follows this up with dramatic ejaculatory lines, “Listen, can you dance with me” and calls out to some black “grandma” to come to the stage and show him how it was done back in the day!

At 38, one wonders where he gets all that energy. Do you feel his presence? This ‘dude’ has worked with all the mattering artistes and preachers from Bono, Mary J. Blidge, Sting, R. Kelly – to some of the beloved gospel artistes and pastors like christian rocker Tobymac, Crystal Lewis, Donnie McClurkin, Jaci Velasquez, Pastor Shirley Caesar, not forgetting the militaristic Bishop T.D ‘Next Billy Graham’ Jakes.

But he has his limits and is careful who he works with because “when I work with you, I’m endorsing you. I’m putting my seal on you in my community and saying, he’s good, receive him” Clearly, Kirk Franklin has had to fight for his life and won. He’ll “Stomp Live” in Kampala to tell you his true story.

A memorable story told through timeless classics such as Why We Sing, 911, Brighter Day, Lean On Me, Silver and Gold, and more, he bares out his heart on why “keeping everything we do focused on the love of God is what music, and life, is all about.”

The question is –are you ready?

--Sunday Monitor, May 18, 2008