Kirk Franklin talks music, fashion and the moment that changed his life

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“Stomp,” “Imagine Me,” “Melodies from Heaven,” “Why We Sing,” are just a few on a string of unforgettable hits that have forever revolutionized contemporary gospel music. But while most of us are familiar with his well-documented story of childhood abandonment, musical prodigy and best-selling gospel artist of all time, there’s still more to Kirk Franklin than meets the eye. On the heels of his 2012 Grammy and NAACP Image award wins for Best Gospel Album and Outstanding Gospel Album (“Hello Fear”) and Best Gospel Song and Outstanding Song, (“I Smile”), Kirk speaks with Jennie Blizzard about some of his most memorable professional and personal moments. His responses may surprise you….

On creativity:
I try not to focus on pushing the envelope. I just try to do what’s in my heart and whatever God puts in my heart to do at that moment. If there’s anything I try to do to be creative it’s to stay aware of what’s happening around me. I’m very aware and influenced by what’s happening in radio, what’s happening in the marketplace, what the sound is. I think that’s natural for anyone who does what I’m called to do for a living. It’s kind of like Jesus. When Jesus was talking to the disciples he talked about making them fishers of men and he used that reference because they were fishing at the time. When he talked to the prostitute by the well, he talked about giving her water that would never let her thirst again. He communicated to people and used the current illustration. I don’t see that as something unique. I see that as something that we all do or should do or should be striving to do.

Fondest musical childhood memory:
I was playing at an Air Force base facility. It was like a club. I was playing with a guy who was like my musical uncle who was like a lounge singer. One night he let me perform with him, and I remember just playing some standards like “You Light Up My Life” and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” songs like that. I was probably between six and eight at the time.

Most inspired:
I’m inspired by everything around me and everything that is part of life, the good, the bad, the ups, the downs. It’s all kind of this song that God is writing – He’s always consistently writing a song that we’re all kind of experiencing.

Happiest when:
Well, for me, happiness is rooted in peace and my confidence in my faith as a Christian.

Definitive game changers:
There have been many. Meeting my wife [Tammy] changed my life drastically – she’s a beautiful person. Also a deacon telling me that he wanted to give me $6,000 to record a demo, which was the “Why We Sing” album. That changed my life. Those are two big ones.

Self-described musical style:
You know I really don’t know how to describe it. I spend so much time doing it I really can’t describe it or define it. I’m just a fan of music. I’m a fan of all music. If something speaks to my heart I listen to it whether it’s Adele or Jason Mraz or whether it’s Boney James. I connect with music that speaks to my heart.

Currently on the iPod:
There’s everything from Yo-Yo Ma to Coldplay to Fred Hammond, and Run DMC. I’m just a connoisseur of music and I really love how it makes you feel.

His thoughts on the state of the film and music industry:
While I was watching the 2012 Academy Awards and some of the commercials, I saw one commercial that tied into the awards, and just watching some of the footage and production and some of the lead footage, it’s amazing to me the level of respect and
love and the passion that the actors and the consumers have for the craft. Whether it’s a movie you remember as a child or a movie that brought tears to your eyes. I was just thinking how music has lost that type of influence and power [on people] that movies seem to continue to have. Music seems to have become so disposable, and people can live with it or live without it. They don’t seem to have the same reaction to music anymore. But movies still seem to have that effect on people. It all made me think about the art form I’m in, and ask if we have lost that place in people’s lives.

If I could travel back in time I would tell young Kirk, that…
Music is what you do. It’s not who you are. Whatever happens in your future, remember that your identity is in who you believe in, not in your performance. Because if your identity is in your performance, you’ll always be performing. That’s what I would tell Little Kirk.

Style philosophy:
[Kirk was voted Best Dressed at the 2012 Grammys by GQ magazine]. I don’t know. If I see something that I like and can find in my size in the kids’ section I just buy it [laughing]. Especially if it’s something that I think I can work with. Whatever I see that I like and whatever space that I’m in, that’s my style.

On The Blueprint [Kirk’s latest book]:
A lot of people didn’t know about it. But those who read it were impressed with the life nuggets. They were really blessed. I had quite a few men tell me there were so many nuggets about marriage and manhood that gave them things to add to their relationships and their perspectives about themselves.

Best childhood memory:
That’s a very hard one. But I guess one of them is riding on a church bus to this concert that our youth choir was doing out of town. The bus ride was so much fun. We went down to this country church, and it was the first time I played the piano in front of another audience and their response was phenomenal. On the way back it was like I was the man. I was just the bomb! They thought I was so fresh.

Favorite Kirk Franklin song:
The one that probably sticks with me close is probably “Imagine Me.” Tomorrow that could change. That song was a very special one.

Best musical memory:
In the studio recording with Stevie Wonder for my album [“Why” from the “Hero”
album] and then realizing I’m in the studio with Stevie Wonder! That was big.

Best advice for undiscovered talent…
Especially in this genre, if you’re not ready to live it, then don’t do it. Do some other genre of music. Don’t do this.

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