Clarence LaVaughn Franklin (often billed as Bishop C. L. Franklin, Reverend C. L. Franklin) (January 22, 1915 - July 27, 1984), was an African-American Baptist preacher, a civil rights activist, and father of the legendary soul and gospel singer Aretha Franklin. Known as the man with The Million-Dollar Voice, he served as the pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan, from 1946 until 1979.
He was born Clarence LaVaughn Walker in Sunflower County, Mississippi, to sharecroppers Willie Walker and Rachel Walker née Pittman. C. L. Franklin would recall that the only thing his father did for him was to teach him to salute when he returned from service in World War I in 1919. Willie Walker abandoned the family shortly thereafter (Clarence was only four years old), and the next year Rachel married Henry Franklin, whose surname the family adopted. At age 16, he became a preacher, initially working the Black itinerant preaching circuit, before settling at New Salem Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, where he remained until May 1944. From there he moved to the pulpit of the Friendship Baptist Church in Buffalo, New York, where he served until June 1946 when he became pastor of the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan.
Throughout the late 1940s and 1950s his fame grew, and he preached throughout the country while maintaining his pulpit at New Bethel. Known as the man with the "Million Dollar Voice", Franklin was one of the first ministers to place his sermons on records (which continued into the 1970s), and also to broadcast sermons via radio on Sundays. He commanded high fees for his public appearances, and among his most famous sermons were "The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest" and "Dry Bones in the Valley", In 2011 "The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest" was added to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. In addition to his fame as a preacher, Franklin was known for his fine singing voice. He greatly encouraged his daughter Aretha Franklin in her musical endeavors, and during the 1950s took Aretha with him on speaking tours and musical engagements. He also formed an a'capella group with Anthony Alexander Chamblee, his first cousin. They only made one album before accepting the call to preach. In addition to his ministry, in the 1950s and 1960s as he became involved in the civil rights movement, and worked to end discriminatory practices against black United Auto Workers members in Detroit.
On October 16, 1934, Franklin married his first wife, Alene Gaines, and though that marriage had ended by early 1936, the form of dissolution is unconfirmed. On June 3, 1936, Franklin married Barbara Siggers, with whom he had four children: Erma (1938-2002), Cecil (1940-1989), Aretha (b. 1942), and Carolyn (1944-1988). Barbara had a son by a previous relationship, Vaughn (b. 1934), whom C. L. adopted shortly after the marriage. Vaughn did not know C. L. Franklin was not his father until 1951. In 1940, Franklin fathered a daughter, Carl Ellan Kelley (née Jennings), by Mildred Jennings, a 12-year-old girl in his New Salem Baptist Church congregation. (She gave birth to Carl Ellan several days after her thirteenth birthday.) In 1948, C. L. Franklin and Barbara separated for the last time, with Barbara moving with Vaughn to Buffalo, New York, and leaving Franklin with the couple's four other children. The couple never divorced. According to Franklin's biographer, Professor Nick Salvatore of Cornell University, Barbara made periodic trips to Detroit to visit her children and the children traveled to New York to visit her during summer vacations. Barbara died of a heart attack in 1952 at the age of 34. Reverend Franklin did not attend her funeral. C. L. Franklin was a close friend and supporter of Martin Luther King, Jr., who deeply admired C. L., and was also known for his close relationships with the legendary Blues singer, Dinah Washington, and with two of gospel music's greatest voices, Mahalia Jackson and Clara Ward. Clara Ward and her singing groups frequently toured with Franklin, and C.L. and Clara had a long-term romantic relationship. Mahalia and Clara greatly encouraged his daughter, Aretha, who credits their mentoring and frequent visits to the Franklin home as great influences.
Violent assault and death:
Shortly after midnight on Sunday, June 10, 1979, Franklin was shot twice at point-blank range during what was said to be an attempted robbery at his home on Detroit's West Side. He was taken to Henry Ford Hospital on nearby West Grand Boulevard. He remained in a coma for the next five years. The Franklin children moved him back to the house six months after the tragedy and installed a 24-hour nurse at the residence to monitor the minister. He remained at the home until the middle of 1984. He died on July 27, 1984, just one week after being placed in Detroit's New Light Nursing Home. Franklin was 69 1/2 years old. Franklin was entombed at Detroit's historic Woodlawn Cemetery on North Woodward Avenue. Franklin's friend, the Rev. Jasper Williams Jr., of the Salem Bible Church of Atlanta, Georgia, gave his eulogy.
Legacy and pop culture:
LeRoy Bailey Jr., senior pastor of The First Cathedral in New Haven, Connecticut, credited Franklin as one of his major influences. House musician Green Velvet released a track entitled "Preacher Man" in 1993, consisting primarily of a C. L. Franklin sermon.