In the summer of 1993 a young unknown gospel musician from Fort Worth, Texas, released–to little initial Fanfare–his self-titled debut album, Kirk Franklin & The Family. Wildly accepted and embraced almost Immediately by the masses, it went on to spend 100 weeks at the top of Billboard magazine's gospel charts, while also crossing over to the R&B side, and becoming in the process the first gospel album ever to sell over a million units.
But despite that auspicious, record-shattering entrance, the world had seen only the smallest foreshadowing of the work of a man who, in less than a decade, would come to stand with the likes of gospel royalty such as Thomas A. Dorsey, James Cleveland and Andrae Crouch as one of the pivotal, defining forces of 20th century- and-beyond gospel music.
Franklin's meteoric rise to the apex of Gospel Music's upper ranks may appear to have been quick, but it was far from glamorous. Abandoned as an infant by his biological mother and never knowing his father, Franklin was raised by his Aunt Gertrude, a deeply religious woman who paid for his piano lessons by collecting aluminum cans when Franklin was only four years old. Though young Franklin possessed phenomenal prodigious musical gifts, surely Aunt Gertrude had no idea that this seed well sown into the life of a hyper young boy full of potential would impact the world on such a large scale.
By age 11, Franklin was directing adult choirs in the Dallas/Ft Worth area. A self-proclaimed "church boy" at heart, it was during a season of teenage rebellion that a 15 year-old Franklin came face to face with the gravity of his decisions when one of his friends was accidentally shot and killed. The tragic death of his friend served as a wake up call for the teenage musical prodigy, and he began composing songs, recording and formed the 17-member vocal ensemble, The Family.
His life took a dramatic turn in 1992 when Vicki Mack-Lataillade, President and CEO of the then-fledgling Gospo Centric Records, listened to one of his tapes and, amazed by what she heard, quickly signed him to a recording contract. Since then, a decade of the greatest commercial successes and brilliant, ground breaking artistry and musical innovation ever seen and heard in gospel music has followed.
Never defined solely as a gospel artist, Franklin is also responsible for several mainstream cross-over successes, the highlights of which include 1995's multi-format smash "Stomp" (performed by Dallas/Ft. Worth-based youth choir God's Property) which garnered airplay on MTV as well as a Song Of The Year nomination and performance on the 1998 Grammy Awards of "Lean On Me", a track from his 1997 release, "The Nu Nation Project", which featured guest appearances by the likes of Mary J Blige, U2's Bono and R Kelly. Always celebrated for weaving seemingly disparate musical influences–R&B, modern rock, hip-hop, pop, jazz, gospel–into a seamless fabric, Franklin is known for creating his own singular style and sound that truly transcends any and all boundaries of genre, race, denomination or social background.
To say that Kirk Franklin has been instrumental in changing the landscape of Contemporary Gospel Music would be a gross understatement. Since his 1993 debut, Franklin has gone on to win 3 Grammy's, 33 Stellar and 9 Dove Awards. Now, after more than a decade on the charts, the biggest-selling Contemporary Gospel artist in Soundscan history is poised once again to make a resounding debut this time as an entrepreneur and head of his own entertainment venture: Fo Yo Soul Entertainment, Inc.
Franklin 's new enterprise which includes a full service youth outreach initiative, an advertising agency and a production company is a multi-tiered relationship with Zomba/BMG, which includes a new record label, Franklin's solo recordings and his services as a record producer. The venture is integral to Franklin's evolution as a Gospel artist. "After 12 years in this industry, I've learned so much," Franklin, says. "I want to take those lessons as well as my own experiences as a man who grew up with one foot in the church and one foot in the streets, and use that to connect with a generation that's not really listening to Gospel music anymore."
Reaching young, urban audiences is a key component of Franklin's vision, and the company's mission statement reflects Franklin's commitment: "We're seeking to creatively impact the world through the roster of artists and resources with Christ centered, innovative products and services," he explains.
Starting in early 2005, in Los Angeles at Faithful Central Bible Church, the youth ministry arm of Fo Yo Soul, Nu Nation Ministries, LLC, will launch the first in a series of annual nationwide events designed to connect with the audience closest to Franklin's heart. A cutting edge urban-styled youth ministry that will offer a presentation filled with dance, rappers, acting, singing, DJ'S and the spoken word, this initiative will involve the talents of young people and prepare them to share their faith in innovative ways. "We really want to get down with mentoring and do what hip hop summits have done, but our focus is shaping Christian character," says Franklin. "We want to educate, inspire and entertain."
Other aspects of the Dallas-based Fo Yo Soul Entertainment include P-19 Media, LLC, a joint venture with the Loomis Agency, a Dallas-based advertising and media firm that will assist with plans to leverage Franklin's unique urban Gospel brand in corporate America.
"I can look over my life and career now and see both seasons of success as well as struggles and pitfalls, but I still believe that it's God working in me," says Franklin. "There's nothing any different in me than what's in any Christian artist. I'm just very grateful that God is using my experience, my imperfections, and that when he gives me a song, it's a song that connects with people."