WHEN KIRK FRANKLIN WAS Appointed minister of music at Mt. Rose Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, a mutiny by the choir nearly ensued. “There were a few people who didn’t like the idea of a little kid telling them how to sing,” recalls Franklin, who happened to be 11 at the time.
Fifteen years later there aren’t many people still questioning Franklin’s credentials. His 1993 debut gospel album, Kirk Franklin and the Family, is nearing 2 million in sales, has earned two Dove Awards (Christian music’s Grammy equivalent), and still remains in the Top 10 on Billboard’s, gospel charts. His followup Whatcha Lookin’ 4 was launched at No. 9 in May and has proved that Franklin is more than a one-miracle wonder. “The whole point to my music,” says the 26-year-old Texan, is to show that “there’s a joy and peace to be found in God and the church….[There’s] no need to go out looking for drugs, sex and alcohol.”
It is a message Franklin says he learned early. Abandoned in infancy by his teenage parents, he was raised in Fort Worth’s hardscrabble Riverside neighborhood by a great-aunt and her piano-playing husband—devout Baptists who packed him off to church each Sunday. Growing up, though, Franklin went the way of neighborhood friends lured by pot, alcohol and street gangs. When he was 15, a close friend was gunned down. “That stopped me in my tracks,” Franklin says. “That’s when I went to Christ.”
Not that he wasn’t sometimes distracted. After enrolling in Fort Worth’s O.D. Wyatt High School, where he rediscovered his love for music, Franklin fathered a son Kerrion, now 7, out of wedlock. The musician, who sees his son frequently, shares a spacious house in Arlington, Texas, with his wife of 6 months, former R&B singer Tammy Renee Collins, 26, and her daughter Carrington, 7. Franklin, who is proud of his music and his family, is humble when it comes to claiming credit for his success. “There are other good, successful gospel singers. I’m no better than they are,” he says. “It was God who got me where I am right now.”