A native of Fort Worth, Texas, Franklin was raised by his aunt, Gertrude, having been abandoned as a baby by his mother. Gertrude collected and resold aluminum cans to raise money for Kirk to take piano lessons from the age of four. Kirk excelled in music, being able to read and write music, while also playing by ear.
He received his first contract offer at the age of seven, which his aunt turned down. He joined the church choir and became music director of the Mt. Rose Baptist Church adult choir at the age of twelve.
Despite his strict religious upbringing, Franklin rebelled in his teenage years, and in an attempt to keep him out of trouble, his grandmother arranged an audition for him at a professional youth conservatory associated with a local university. He was accepted and, while his life seemed to be on track for a while, the announcement of a girlfriend’s pregnancy and his eventual expulsion from school for behavioral problems proved otherwise.
Kirk Franklin studied music with Jewell Kelly and the Singing Chaparrals at Oscar Dean Wyatt High School. He was under her tutelage for music direction as she allowed him to be the pianist for the choir.
After the shooting death of a friend, Franklin returned to the church, where he began to direct the choir once again. He also co-founded a gospel group, The Humble Hearts, which recorded one of Franklin’s compositions and got the attention of gospel music legend Milton Biggham. Impressed, Biggham enlisted him to lead the DFW Mass Choir in a recording of Franklin’s song “Every Day with Jesus.” This led to Biggham hiring Franklin, just 20 years old at the time, to lead the choir at the 1990 Gospel Music Workshop of America Convention, a major industry gathering.
Kirk Franklin and The Family (1992–2000)
In 1992, Franklin organized “The Family”, which was a seventeen-voice choir, formed from neighborhood friends and associates. In 1992, Vicki Mack-Lataillade, the co-founder of fledgling record label GospoCentric, heard one of their demo tapes and was so impressed she immediately signed up Kirk & The Family to a recording contract.
In 1993, the group, now known as “Kirk Franklin & The Family,” released their debut album, Kirk Franklin & The Family. It spent almost two years on the Gospel music charts and charted on the R&B charts, eventually earning platinum sales status. It remained at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Gospel Albums chart for 42 weeks. It was the first gospel music album to sell over a million units.
Two years later, after releasing a 1995 Christmas album entitled Kirk Franklin & the Family Christmas, the group released Whatcha Lookin’ 4 in 1996. The album was certified 2x platinum and earned Franklin his first Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album. 1997 brought another album, a collaboration with the vocal ensemble God’s Property, aptly named God’s Property from Kirk Franklin’s Nu Nation. The lead single, “Stomp”, featuring Cheryl “Salt” James (of Salt-N-Pepa), was a big hit, enjoying heavy rotation on MTV and other music channels, and charting at No. 1 on the R&B Singles Airplay chart for two weeks, even making it into the Top 40. God’s Property from Kirk Franklin’s Nu Nation was No. 1 on the R&B Albums chart for five weeks, No. 3 on the Pop charts, and would go on to be certified 3x platinum. It also brought Franklin another Grammy for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album, as well as three Grammy nominations.
In 1996, Franklin’s song “Joy” was recorded by Whitney Houston and the Georgia Mass Choir. With production by Houston and Mervyn Warren, the composition was included on the best-selling soundtrack to the movie The Preacher’s Wife.
On November 2, 1998, God’s Property sued Franklin. The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges that Franklin induced God’s Property founder Linda Searight into signing an “onerous and one-sided” contract with B-Rite Music.
The Nu Nation Project was released in 1998. The first single, an interpretation of the Bill Withers song “Lean on Me” and produced by Franklin and pop producer Dan Shea, controversially featured several mainstream artists, including R. Kelly, Mary J. Blige and Bono of U2. Together with Crystal Lewis, and the Family, “Lean on Me” and the second single “Revolution” (featuring Rodney Jerkins) were considerable hits, and the album contained a version of another Withers song “Gonna Be a Lovely Day”. The Nu Nation Project went on to top the Billboard Contemporary Christian Albums chart for 23 weeks and the Billboard Gospel Albums chart for 49 weeks, and brought Franklin his third Grammy.
Also in 1998, Franklin had made a guest appearance on the hit television sitcom Sister, Sister.
In, 2000, The Family filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit for royalties for their work on The Nu Nation Project against Franklin and GospoCentric Records. This saw the end of the “Kirk Franklin & The Family” records, as Kirk went on to become a solo artist, except for his CD Kirk Franklin Presents 1NC, which he did in collaboration with One Nation Crew, and was released that same year.
On January 16, 2010 at the 25th Annual Stellar Awards show taping, in Nashville, Tennessee, Kirk Franklin & The Family reunited briefly on stage to perform songs made popular by them in the 1990s.
Solo artist (2001–present)
In 2001, Franklin ventured into new territory, scoring and producing the soundtrack for the film Kingdom Come. The soundtrack featured gospel artists Mary Mary, Crystal Lewis, and 1NC, as well as secular artists Az Yet, Jill Scott, Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men and others. A notable song from the soundtrack was “Thank You” (Kirk Franklin feat. Mary Mary).
2002’s The Rebirth of Kirk Franklin topped the Gospel Albums chart for 29 weeks, was No. 1 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, and was certified Platinum. The album featured collaborations with Bishop T.D. Jakes, Shirley Caesar, Willie Neal Johnson, TobyMac, Crystal Lewis, Jaci Velasquez, Papa San, Alvin Slaughter, and Yolanda Adams.
On October 4, 2005, Hero was released in the United States. The album was certified Gold on December 2, 2005 and Platinum on December 14, 2006 by the Recording Industry Association of America. It made No. 1 on both the Billboard Top Christian and Top Gospel albums. The first single, “Looking for You”, was a hit, as was the follow-up “Imagine Me”, which made it onto the R&B Charts. In December 2006, Franklin won two 2007 Grammy Awards for Hero. Additionally, Hero was the 2007 Stellar Awards CD of the Year.
Franklin’s 10th album, The Fight of My Life, was released in the United States on December 18, 2007. The album debuted on the Billboard 200 at No. 33 with 74,000 copies sold in the first week. It reached No. 1 on both the Billboard Top Gospel and Top Christian albums charts, and also peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums Chart.The first single, “Declaration (This is It),” was released on October 23, 2007 and peaked at No. 35 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Chart. The album features guest appearances from Rance Allen, Isaac Carree, TobyMac, Da’ T.R.U.T.H., Doug Williams, and Melvin Williams. The song “Jesus” was released as the album’s second single in 2008 and was sent to Urban AC radio on July 15, 2008. In January 2010 after Haiti had a devastating earthquake, Franklin got an ensemble of gospel artists together to sing the song he wrote, called “Are You Listening”. They included: Yolanda Adams, Jeremy Camp, Shirley Caesar, Dorinda Clark-Cole, Natalie Grant, Fred Hammond, Tamela Mann, David Mann, Mary Mary, Donnie McClurkin, Bishop Paul S. Morton, J. Moss, Smokie Norful, Marvin Sapp, Karen Clark-Sheard, Kierra Sheard, BeBe Winans, Cece Winans, and Marvin Winans.
Franklin is the host and co-executive producer of the BET original series Sunday Best and the musical co-host of GSN’s The American Bible Challenge with Jeff Foxworthy. Franklin’s eleventh studio album called Hello Fear was released on March 22, 2011. The album features Marvin Sapp, Mali Music, Marvin Winans, John P. Kee and Rance Allen. The first single off the album is “I Smile”, which peaked at No. 85 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it his first appearance on that chart in six years.
In 2013, Franklin started his own record label imprint, Fo Yo Soul Recordings, which is in association with RCA Records, and he has signed acts such as The Walls Group and artists like Tasha Page-Lockhart. These two artists received ten Stellar Award nominations at the 30th Stellar Awards. The Walls Group won seven awards, while Page-Lockhart won three of her own, and Franklin won two more for his label.
In September 2015, Kirk Franklin announced his twelfth studio album, Losing My Religion, the album was on released November 13, 2015. The first single off the album “Wanna Be Happy?” was released on August 28, 2015.
On January 20, 1996, Franklin married long-time friend Tammy Collins. When they wed, they each had one child from previous relationships: Kirk’s son Kerrion, born in 1988, and Tammy’s daughter Carrington (whom he legally adopted), born in 1989. As a couple, they have two children together, a daughter named Kennedy (born in 1997) and a son named Caziah (born in 2000). Carrington became engaged to Maxx Nakwaasah in October 2015.
In 2005, Franklin appeared with his wife on The Oprah Winfrey Show to discuss how he ended his pornography addiction.