Sunday, June 24, 2007

Remembering Reverend C.L. Franklin

He is remembered nowadays as Aretha Franklin’s father. But in the 1950s, the Rev. Clarence LaVaughn Franklin was one of the most famous preachers in America.

In the city of Detroit, C.L. Franklin’s Sunday night radio broadcasts live from New Bethel Baptist Church were a phenomenon. Other preachers rescheduled their Sunday evening services so as not to compete with Rev. Franklin’s.

Then he pioneered the practice of recording full-length sermons for sale as LPs. This brought him “a national celebrity within black America on the level of a Sam Cooke, a Mahalia Jackson, or a Little Richard,” according to Franklin’s biographer, Nick Salvatore.

I’m streaming a 7-minute segment of one of Rev. Franklin’s most popular sermons, “The Eagle Stirs Her Nest,” on my Vox audio stash. Click here to hear it. You can purchase the full half-hour sermon for download from eMusic.

In his 2005 book, “Singing in a Strange Land: C.L. Franklin, the Black Church, and the Transformation of America,” Salvatore describes Rev. Franklin’s growing stardom (and the backlash) after he got into business with record-label entrepreneur Joe Von Battle:
NICK SALVATORE: The recordings were an immediate sensation. Detroiters bought them in large numbers, and Von Battle distributed them on his JVB label to other record shops in the Midwest and the South. Von Battle’s operation was small, and he could neither press enough records nor handle the bookkeeping and advertising to take full advantage of the opportunity. But there was no question that Franklin was a major success.

When Von Battle put a new sermon on his [record store’s] sound system, flooding the Hastings Street sidewalk with the mellifluous power of that voice, crowds frequently gathered to listen. “More than once,” Marsha L. Mickens, Von Battle’s daughter, remembered her father saying, he “had to call the police to break up the crowds that would gather to hear” the recorded sermon.

All this attention made C.L. an even more attractive figure as he leaned across the pulpit or sauntered down Hastings Street during the course of a day’s business. This handsome, virile man, in effect single since 1948, had never been bashful about his sexuality, which he considered... “one of the great psychological needs” all humans experience. That some women, in and outside the church community, responded with a matching passion, C.L. considered one of life’s great delights. ...

Talk about C.L.’s involvements with women provided his critics, particularly those in the ministry, with additional cause to dismiss him. The critics were not necessarily innocents themselves, but the open, public manner in which C.L. squired his women about town upset them. From their perspective, C.L. was not exploring the boundary of the sacred and the secular – he had, rather, fallen over into the abyss.

This, in turn, reinforced criticism of his preaching style and doubts about his recording career. Even before his appearance on the JVB label, many had dismissed him as a mere entertainer, a panderer to popular emotions, a preacher who lacked an intellectual core to his sermon.

More so in 1953, following C.L.’s carefully produced radio program, his record sales, and New Bethel’s mushrooming membership rolls, these critics – with not a little jealousy – regarded C.L. as a celebrity hound, an embarrassment to the ministry they sought to serve.

Were these charges accurate, C.L.’s stretch toward national fame would quickly falter, for no sermon so empty of meaning could withstand repeated scrutiny by the insightful if often unschooled people whose perceptive folk commentary on preachers and their messages was a staple of the black oral tradition.

4 comments:

A REAL PREACHER said...

I would rather hear Reverend C L Franklin any day than t d jakes, creflo $ or any of the other hustlers on tv today

Nadir78 said...

Rev. C.L. Franklin is the "original" preacher with purpose and power!!!! I listen to Rev. Franklin in 2009; He is more relevant now than in the 40's 50's and 60's.

His sermons will live on as Mahalia Jackson will live on as authentic expressions of African-Americans trying to make "heaven their home"!!!!!

Brian W. Grier said...

We often forget that God uses imperefect people because He has no other option. The Bible says "All have sinned and come short". So whatever Rev. Franklin's short comings may have been they like mine have been covered with the Blood of Jesus. We tend to place people on pedestals and then condem them when they fall from so lofty a height. Whatever our thorne in the flesh may be God's annoiting covers our defects and His word nor His will returns unto Him void. "Look unto Jesus sinless is He!"

janicedflores said...

REV/DR. C.L.FRANKLIN HAS TRULLY BEEN INSPIRATION IN MY LIFE. HIS PREACHING/TEACHING HAS NOT ONLY CHANGE MY LIFE, BUT I OFTEN SHARE HIS SERMONS WITH COWORKERS, FRIENDS AND FAMILY. THIS MAN WAS ANOINTED AND ALLOWED GOD TO USE HIM LIKE NO OTHER, AS FOR AS HIS SOUL SALVATION IT IS BETWEEN HIM AND GOD. IF WE SPEND OUR TIME WORKING OUT OUR OWN, IT WILL TAKE JUST THAT "A LIFETIME", BUT I ASSURE YOU HIS LIVING WAS NOT IN VAIN(ONLY WHAT YOU DO FOR GOD WILL LAST)
GOD BLESS
JANICE D. FLORES