Kirk Franklin is easily one of God's greatest hype men. On stage, his ball of ad-libs, inspiration and intensity breaks through the angelic roar of every choir he's ever put together. Not an easy task, considering he's surrounded himself with some of the world's greatest vocal talent since since he started “The Family” choir in the early '90s. It's a pattern that's earned him 12 albums and five Grammys. But mostly it's his boisterous energy and raspy howl that gives the 43 year-old Ft.Worth, Texas native the star power to lead the modern gospel scene.
He's bringing an extra dose of that contemporary flair to the House of Blues venues across the country this Sunday for Kirk Franklin's Gospel Brunch, a curated revamp of the venue chain's monthly Gospel Brunch, which celebrates its 20th anniversary on Mother's Day weekend. We got a chance to talk to Franklin about his new show, the future of the gospel music and his thoughts about the woman who raised him.
OC Weekly (Nate Jackson): First off, considering that you're going to be at the House of Blues in LA on Mother's Day celebrating this new brunch, how do you plan to do something special for wife back in Texas?
Kirk Franklin: My wife, she's such a great supporter for me and you know what also makes it difficult for me is the fact that my mother passed away several years ago and I'm not able to have her be a part of all of this. And I think that's the most difficult day of Mother's Day for me. But what I get to do is come back late Sunday night to Texas so I'll be on a plane Sunday evening and I'll get to run in the house and hug her and squeeze her real tight and tell her how much I appreciate her.
Do you have any specific Mother's Day memories of your aunt–the woman who adopted and raised you–when she was alive?
My mother was older so the holidays weren't something we participated in a lot of when I was kid. I was just thankful that she recycled old beer cans and newspapers to pay for my piano lessons and gave me a chance to have a gift.
What makes this new Gospel Brunch on Sunday something that hasn't been done before?
I've created and curated all of the House of Blues venues across the country for this Mother's Day launch. We've worked really hard to make sure that the local talent is going to be up to par and try to make sure that the whole brunch is something people will enjoy when it comes to the talent and the visuals when you walk in. We've created video content that's gonna play through as you walk in and there's some interactive stuff. We just worked hard to make it exciting.
In the last several years, the the contemporary gospel scene continues to grow in mainstream visibility, including your BET show “Sunday Best” which is now in its sixth season. But are you still as excited about the scene as you were in your heyday in the 90s?
This is still a genre that showcases a level of talent that you can't get anywhere else, there's something about the level of talent that we bring on Sunday morning to people's churches that is not produced or over the top, it's something pure that you can hear. We're all created for something bigger and this music reminds you that there's another world outside of this world that puts everybody on the same playing field. When you're rich it seems like you're winning and when you're poor if feels like you're losing but we believe through these songs that there's a better place for everybody and that's what this genre of music reminds people.
If you had to name a group or an artist that's both young and relevant in the contemporary gospel scene right now, who comes to mind?
There's this group I signed out of Houston called The Walls Group and they're incredible. They're two brothers and two sisters out of Houston, ages 15-21. And I think they're gonna be a big name in the future of this genre.
You've dealt with some very public and challenging struggles in recent years with regard to pornography addiction and promiscuity. But what is something that's challenged you the most spiritually lately and how did you deal with that challenge?
What I tell people is that just because you do gospel music or go to church doesn't mean you don't have concerns, doubts, and worries in life. The most beautiful thing I've done is to be able to move past dogma and religion and real have a personal, passionate relationship with God and to grow with him every day so that when you have thee doubts and challenges in life, there's an open door for you to be able to ask and to question and to find peace. Life can be hard for everyone and you have to have something better than some fresh sneaks and a nice car to get you through it, man.
Kirk Franklin's Gospel Brunch at the House of Blues Anaheim featuring Tony James and Emerge happens on May 12 at 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. Ticket info available here.
Nate Jackson is the gatekeeper to your dreams of local dive bar stardom. If he writes about you, expect your band to be offered at least one more drink ticket than the rest of the bands on the bill. Get his attention with some groovy tunes and he might just do it. Then, boy will you feel special.