Gospel artist Kirk Franklin

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Gospel music star talks about his new memoir, The Blueprint.

Kirk Franklin brought high energy and crossover appeal to contemporary gospel music. Since his '93 debut CD—"Kirk Franklin & The Family," the first gospel debut to go platinum—he's become the biggest-selling gospel artist in Soundscan history. The seven-time Grammy winner has branched out to TV, hosting the gospel talent search show Sunday Best, and film soundtracks. A Texas native, Franklin was music director of his church's adult choir at age 11. He tells his inspirational story of triumph over life's storms in the memoir, The Blueprint.


Tavis: Pleased to welcome Kirk Franklin back to this program. The Grammy-winning gospel artist and producer is out soon with a new text. It’s called “The Blueprint: A Plan for Living Above Life’s Storms.” Kirk Franklin, good to see you, as always.
Kirk Franklin: It’s an honor, sir.
Tavis: And as always, you clean as the Board of Health. Look at you, man – God. (Laughter) You doing all right?
Franklin: I’m doing good, sir, thank you for having me.
Tavis: Wife, kids are good?
Franklin: Tammy’s good, the kids are good. Thank you, sir. Thank you.
Tavis: Tammy’s good? Good book, good book.
Franklin: Thank you.
Tavis: The first thing I thought, though, when I saw it was the title, “The Blueprint: A Plan for Living Above Life’s Storms,” every one of us, of course, has a different journey. Yours is a unique journey, mine is unique – we all have unique journeys. So when you say “The Blueprint,” you mean by that what?
Franklin: Well, when we’re trying to build our lives, a lot of us, just like me, we didn’t have fathers or we didn’t have the right people at the right time in our lives, giving us the right tools to become who God created us to be. So most people have desires that are great and they want to do great things, and they don’t want to be negative people or they don’t want to live in pessimistic attitudes, but the problem is a lot of them were not given the right tools. They were not given the right blueprint of how to build a building.
It’s almost like if you are trying to build a building and you’ve got all the great workers there – everybody shows up, the electrician, the construction guys, the wood guys, the light guys, and then everybody’s there to work. But if there’s no blueprint there, then everybody has to go on what they think is right.
Everybody has to do just from their past experiences, so you end up having a building that doesn’t look the way that it was supposed to look because nobody had a plan to go by.
Tavis: How much of life is really, though, about having a blueprint – that is to say, a plan that’s laid out – this is my plan, this is the plan I intend to follow – versus the notion of experience being the best teacher, and no matter how much you lay out a plan there are certain things that are going to happen that only experience can teach you. Does that make sense?
Franklin: Yes, sir, and of course just as somebody who is unapologetically Christian, I believe that all things work together for good. So we really do believe that even our bad can be used – how God can take the lemons and make lemonade.
But there are certain bumps that are self-inflicted that if we would have our elders, if we would have those that have lived a life before us that were taught from their elders, from their elders, from their elders, that we don’t have to make a lot of unnecessary mistakes.
Tavis: How in those moments and those places where you were not following a blueprint, where you were not on the right path, beyond the obvious of bumping your head, how did you know that this direction is wrong for me, this path is wrong for me, what I’m doing here is not right for my life beyond, again, just bumping your head? How did you know that you were out of sync, out of alignment, so to speak?
Franklin: Well, I even talk about it in the book. I firmly believe, humbly speaking, is that from the womb, God wires us. You can go to some of the most remote places in the world and a little kid knows that doing something wrong is innately wrong.
So they don’t have to be told that, and so we are naturally wired by God to know right and wrong and so when my dudes were smoking and getting high or when I saw men tipping off on their wives when I was a kid, in the church and out of the church, I just knew something inside was not right about that, even though I didn’t have the tools and I was jacking up myself.
I knew that there had to be something better, and as soon as I had a chance to (unintelligible) in the faith that we’re really trying to live the right way, something inside of me said, “That’s it, that’s what I want to be.”
It had nothing to do with the bling, it had nothing to do with the house, it had nothing to do with the (unintelligible). It was something inside of me that knew that morally, their compass was set the right way, and that’s what I wanted to plug into.
Tavis: You hit this earlier, let me come back to it and ask it this way. How much, then, of the misguided nature of Black men and Black women and people, period, across the country today you think has to do with not having people, as you would say, the right men or the right women, to mirror?
Franklin: A great deal. You and I both know some of the smartest people in the world and we can have discussions all day about some of the socioeconomic issues when it comes to Black men and just some of the anger that we carry like luggage. There’s a part in the book I talk about no more excuses, that you and I can sit all day with men in the hood and just former athletes or whatever, the dudes that did good in high school but never made it to the NFL, that are just running their race bitter.
So it’s still an opportunity inside of us that God has put inside of us that when we are introduced to what’s right we have to respond to that. We have to respond to when we know something is not right. There was something inside of me that knew that what I saw other men do, that that wasn’t acceptable and had to be something better.
So even in the African American community, even though we might not have had those fathers and fathers’ fathers’ fathers, we have to still try to plug into, even if it’s that small person that is letting their light shine, when we know that we can no longer blame the man or we can no longer use those same excuses, that we have to make a difference.
Even in a small hole that we live in, if it’s just a small, little corner, somebody made a great difference in my life. I’ll never forget, Tavis, being in trouble in the tenth grade, and I was jacking up and I wasn’t going to class and I was just acting a fool, and there was this senior. I was a sophomore and he was a senior, and he took me in the vice principal’s office and he took his belt off and he began to whup me.
Tavis: A senior?
Franklin: Yes. (Laughter) He was a good friend of mine.
Tavis: Okay.
Franklin: He was a good friend.
Tavis: Tell me something, yeah.
Franklin: He whupped my butt. He said, “Fool, I’m not going to let you mess up, I’m not going to let you act no fool and just waste your life. You’re not going to do it. Yeah, you can play the piano, you can make everybody sing, you can make (unintelligible) but are just skipping class and doing that, you’re not living what you’re preaching,” and he whupped my behind.
Every time I see him now I thank him for that, because that one little small thing just made a big impact in my life, man. So thank you for whupping my behind. (Laughter) Thank you.
Tavis: You mentioned earlier that there are people who go through life without a blueprint or at least not wanting to acknowledge one, because they are bitter about something. They have a chip on their shoulder. Was that your experience at some point?
Franklin: Yeah.
Tavis: What were you bitter about? What was the chip on your shoulder?
Franklin: Well, not necessarily me – mine, some people, there’s a part in a chapter I talk about running the race with the baton, and I was talking about how my son was running this 400 by 400 relay, and because he’s a Franklin, of course he was running last leg – that’s just natural. (Laughter)
So the guy that was running second leg, he had a lead, had a great lead, and when he got to the last curve he dropped the baton. Because it was raining earlier that day, he dropped the baton and so now the track was wet, so now it’s a dropped, late and it’s a dirty baton, and it makes everybody on the team have to run harder.
So the first thing I did is I looked at my son, because I wanted to see how my son was going to respond, because his response was going to show me what type of coach that I’ve been. Was he going to run bitter or was he going to run better? When I saw him stretching and kind of getting himself ready, that made me proud because it showed me that he didn’t get pissed off because the baton was dropped.
He saw it, you know what? What I’ve got to do is I’ve got to do my part. Some people – just like you could have two people be in the World Trade Center and one could come out going, “You know what? This is a wake-up call for my life. I need to get my life right. I need to go and apologize to my wife. I faced death today and I want to change how I’m living.”
Or another person can come out the Trade Center, stick his middle finger to God and just live the rest of his life bitter. He has this racial thing in his mind about anybody that looks like they’re from the Middle East. So it’s all about the compass of your heart, and unfortunately we can’t always go in and set the compasses of people’s hearts because that would determine how they will respond.
So all we can do is do the best thing we can, like Grandmama would do. She would fix the best Sunday meal and she would kill that Sunday meal, but one thing Grandmama couldn’t give you was appetite.
Tavis: Mm-hmm, I like it. You have said in the book and on this program, in fact, that you are “unapologetically Christian.” How much has that been at the epicenter of your personal blueprint?
Franklin: In good ways and bad ways. I am very clear that those who profess my faith have not always done a great job throughout history, always living what we preach or always having true and genuine motives behind some of the things that we preach against or rally against or fight against.
So I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly from those that have mirrored the faith in front of me, so I’ve tried to take all of those lessons and tried to make a difference, and to try to be absolute in what I believe, that what you see when the cameras are off is what I really want to try to live.
Because I believe that how I live is the best message. That’s the best sermon. I can do a song, but it doesn’t mean that that song is going to reflect everything that you see behind closed doors. So that’s the greatest job that I can do, is to make sure that my lifestyle is the greatest (unintelligible).
Tavis: That old adage that people would rather see a sermon than hear a sermon.
Franklin: Yeah, man.
Tavis: They’d rather see one than hear one.
Franklin: Yeah, man.
Tavis: We live in this era of the so-called prosperity gospel, and the point that people hear, I think wrongly, but hear so often, is that if the blueprint for your life is right, if you’re living by the right blueprint, you’re supposed to have all this. The better you live, the more you give, the more God’s going to bless you. So it’s the trappings that you have, it’s the stuff that you have that’s supposed to let us know how much God is blessing you, how on point with your blueprint you really are.
Talk to me about how that message can become or has become so convoluted, because you would think that you might be watching this program right now and you are handling your business, you are following the blueprint for your life, but because you don’t have what Kirk Franklin or Tavis Smiley has, or more to the point what the preacher has, then you’re condemned because you – you follow me?
Franklin: Yeah.
Tavis: I know you know this.
Franklin: Yes, yes.
Tavis: Talk to me about that.
Franklin: Well, I see it as a scam. That is a scam, that when we sign people up for the faith and we let them know that okay, show them what’s behind curtain number one (laughter). You’re coming to Christ and behind curtain number one there’s health, and no more cancer and no more problems, and behind curtain number two is the Bentley and the (unintelligible).
Tavis: A new car. (Laughter)
Franklin: Yeah, a new car. Then you’ve got Vanna that walks out at you. (Laughter) Come to Jesus. It’s a hustle. Hard times will come to people that are living right. Dark days will come to people that are doing good. When people come and they want to know about the faith, we’ve got to keep it 100 with them. We’ve got to let them know that this is not no pie in the sky; this is not something that’s going to just change overnight.
When we saw the markets jack up and we saw the homes go in foreclosure and people were going out and doing all these things because the preacher said that you deserve the bigger house and you deserve that, and credit was whacked up and they didn’t have a job to support all that.
Then when those prophecies didn’t come true, people felt lied to. I believe that that’s why you see all these Pew studies that come out that a lot of people are walking away from the faith. A lot of people are changing what they believe because they really feel lied to. I think that it’s very important for people to know what they’re signing up for.
How I talk about it in the book is like premarital counseling. How some people go to premarital counseling and they’re sitting there and everything is all cute and you have the marital counselor going, “Stay together. You’re going to be happy forever. Love him. There will be dark days, there will be rough times, but you guys will make it.” And they go, “Yes, yes, we’re going to make it. We’re going to be forever and ever.”
Then after that first year and after the layoff and after the kids and after his stomach starts hanging over them pants and (laughter) after she can’t get the baby fat off and things are not as hot in the bedroom anymore, everybody feels lied to because the premarital counselor didn’t keep it gully, didn’t keep it real, didn’t talk about okay, what happens when she changes her desire this way sexually?
What happens when she no longer likes this anymore? What happens when he still wants to go out with his boys, even though he’s married with the kids? Who’s going to play those different roles?
If we don’t keep an honest approach with people about their faith, even in their personal relationships, people feel tricked, they feel hoodwinked, bamboozled, you know what I mean? So that’s what I want the blueprint, which for me is not Kirk’s blueprint, it’s God’s blueprint.
That is not going to make you a superhero. It’s not going to make pie in the sky. It’s not going to make money fall from Heaven. But what it can do is that we don’t have to wait for the storm to pass. We can live above it and we can have peace in the midst of. So that’s what I want to talk about in that book.
Tavis: And that’s what he talks about in this book. (Laughter) It’s called “The Blueprint: A Plan for Living Above Life’s Storms.” Like that picture, Kirk.
Franklin: Oh, thank you.
Tavis: You are so clean all the time, man.
Franklin: Oh, well.
Tavis: God is blessing you, I can see it.
Franklin: But that’s not a prosperity (unintelligible). It’s not prosperity. (Laughter)
Tavis: Yeah, I think I can serve God better with that shirt and tie. (Laughter) I think I can serve him better.
Franklin: It may be a little tight on you.
Tavis: It probably would be, just a little bit. (Laughter) Good to see you, man.
Franklin: It’s an honor, man.
Tavis: Thanks, Kirk.

Franklin: Thank you.

Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm