Gospel music star Kirk Franklin is enjoying sweet success as a multi-platinum selling, multiple Grammy Award-winning recording artist — one of only a few gospel singers to achieve crossover appeal.
But life has been far from easy, as he recently told NPR's Allison Keyes.
"All of my [childhood] friends are in prison. My sister has a crack cocaine addiction. She was in prison for 13 years," recalls the hitmaker of such songs as "Stomp" and "Revolution." "I come from a family of wounded people, of broken people."
Franklin's struggles — and his journey to rise above them — are the subject of his new book, The Blueprint: A Plan for Living Above Life's Storms.
He recalls being abandoned by his mother as a child and becoming sexually active before becoming a teenager, which led to a youth filled with promiscuity. At age 17, he became a father.
"It became a thing of trying to fill in those love holes," he says.
But after losing a childhood friend to gun violence, Franklin relied on his faith to change his ways. His friend's death, he says, taught him a lesson.
"Death does not discriminate," he recalls, saying it came as an epiphany. "But I was still missing a blueprint."
Franklin says he entered adulthood wanting to "do right," but he found the shortage of positive examples discouraging.
In his book, the 40-year-old hopes to offer young and old insight on better living. He boldly takes on issues of sex, marriage and parenting.
"There's nothing else that man and woman can do that is as powerful as sex, [where] two people can come together and procreate another one of them," says Franklin. "That's a powerful thing."
But he suggests the power of human relationships is too often distorted by many young people living in a sex-crazed culture.
"Sex, when it's not [seen] through a healthy lens, is misinterpreted for love," he explains.
Franklin is experiencing brighter days as an adult — finding wealth as an uber-successful recording artist and personal fulfillment as a husband and father — but his life is still far from immune to life's challenges.
In a famous 2005 appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Franklin (with his wife, Tammy, by his side) admitted being addicted to pornography.
Now, he says he's recovered from his addiction and has advice for married couples on surviving turbulent periods — and, particularly, a message for men.
"If [your wife] just feels like she's there just for your sexual release, then she will always be malnourished," he says. "Treat her like [she is] the most powerful, important being on the planet."
Franklin cites his own marriage for example.
"My wife makes me feel like i can climb a mountain, like I'm six feet tall," explains the artist, who says he's really 5-foot-4.
But all in all, his message is that he just wants to help others in their life journey.
"I'm trying to get way ahead of the game for people and say ... this is how the story looks when you make that change," he says.
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ALLISON KEYES, host:
I'm Allison Keyes, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.
Coming up, you tell us more about our programs this week in Backtalk. But first, gospel artist Kirk Franklin joins us for Faith Matters, the part of the program where we talk about how spirituality affects our everyday lives.
Kirk Franklin began composing and singing gospel as a child, but his youth was far from easy. Abandoned by his parents, Franklin never finished high school and struggled for years to stay out of trouble. He created a style that drew from both sides of his experience and started a revolution in sacred music.
(Soundbite of song, "Revolution")
Mr. KIRK FRANKLIN (Musician): (Singing) Get ready for a revolution. Do you want a revolution? Do you want a revolution?
KEYES: Since the 1990s, when Kirk Franklin took the spirit of the street into the church, a whole generation of gospel singers has followed in his footsteps. Now, Franklin has put the lessons from his life into a new book. It's called "The Blueprint: A Plan for Living Above Life's Storms." Kirk Franklin, welcome to the program.
Mr. FRANKLIN: Thank you for having me. It is very great to be here at NPR.
KEYES: So, in your book, you write that you were involved with God very early, even before some of, well, we should say, I guess, some of the unfortunate times in your teen years. You didn't finish school. You were sexually active as a teenager.
Mr. FRANKLIN: Very young - no, no, no, as a kid.
KEYES: As a kid. I mean, we're talking, like, how old?
Mr. FRANKLIN: Yeah, eight, nine years old.
Mr. FRANKLIN: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
KEYES: That's early.
Mr. FRANKLIN: That's very early, but...
KEYES: But at what point did you decide, okay, I'm going to have to start living righteously in the things I'm singing about?
Mr. FRANKLIN: Well, when I was 15 years old, a friend of mine got shot and killed. And that really scared me because it was the first person I knew my age - and I ran with a crew that was wild and out. And he was a good guy. He was the church dude. He was the Sunday morning dude, you know...
KEYES: Not the one that you thought this would happen to.
Mr. FRANKLIN: No. We were smoking weed. We were drinking. We were sneaking into clubs and lying about our age and, you know, and everything else. So for him to die, it's like, you know what? That was like a big bell for me. And from that point, then what was created inside of me was a desire to do right, but I was still missing a blueprint.
And I believe that a lot of people in society, they want to do right. You know, I mean, everybody don't want to be bad with their money. I mean, a lot of people don't want to go through the worst.
It was amazing, during a book signing in Atlanta, there was a lady who was standing in line, and she said before today, I didn't even I never heard of you. And she said that I came for my sister-in-law. She heard of you before, and she said while I was in line, I was reading the chapter on marriage, and young man, I have to tell you, I wish that I would have read this chapter a year ago, because I'm going through a divorce. And if I would have heard some of the things that you say in your book a year ago, I really could have done some things different.
KEYES: I suspect that people that don't spend a lot of time in church might not have known who you were, except they heard, I suspect, "Stomp" in 1998. Let me listen to a little bit of that.
(Soundbite of song, "Stomp")
Mr. FRANKLIN: For those of you who think that gospel music has gone too far, you think we've gotten too radical with our message, well I've got news for you: You ain't heard nothing yet. And if you don't know, now you know. Glory, glory! We're gonna put some hands together and act like you know (unintelligible).
Unidentified Group: (Singing) Lately, I've been going through some things that really got me down.
Mr. FRANKLIN: That's right. Here we go. Come on.
Unidentified Group: (Singing) I need someone, somebody to help me come and turn my life around.
Mr. FRANKLIN: I feel like having some church up in here. Come one, hey.
Unidentified Group: (Singing) I can't explain it, I can't obtain it. Jesus, your love is so, it's so amazing. It gets me high, up to the sky, and when I think about your goodness, it makes me wanna stomp.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FRANKLIN: You can't take my joy, devil. Makes me clap.
Unidentified Group: (Singing) Makes me clap my hands. Makes me...
KEYES: You can't see this, but there are a whole bunch of people in the control room dancing and clapping and singing.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FRANKLIN: That makes me feel real good.
KEYES: My question is, though...
Mr. FRANKLIN: We're getting our jam on at NPR, you know.
(Soundbite of laughter)
KEYES: When this song came out, I think I had never heard such a seamless blend of gospel and hip-hop. I mean, did you catch any drama when you first mixed those two kinds of music?
Mr. FRANKLIN: Oh, yeah, lots of drama, lots of hurtful things were said, attacking my character and my integrity. And, you know, and it was coming from my community, you know.
KEYES: What did they say?
Mr. FRANKLIN: That it was very ungodly for me to do that, it was heresy, you know, but the music itself is always given as a gift of God. And so to be able to use it to preach his message is a very powerful thing.
KEYES: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE. I'm Allison Keyes, and we're talking to gospel music star Kirk Franklin about his new book, "The Blueprint: A Plan for Living Above Life's Storms."
Now, in your book, you talked about your past addiction to pornography. You appeared on Oprah in 2005 and talked a bit about that.
Mr. FRANKLIN: Yes. Yes.
KEYES: It's not an issue that you still have. Are you past that now?
Mr. FRANKLIN: Yes, well, you know, and I was invited to "The Oprah Winfrey Show" because their producers had heard my testimonies in Christian media, and they invited me because they were doing a show about pornography. And it was just such a very powerful thing because a lot of people that didn't know now knew. And so, no. That for me, it's been an incredible story, now for about 10 years, of just really learning that these bad habits that I learned as a kid, these...
KEYES: Because you say this was part of the very early entry you had into sex, at age eight, you said.
Mr. FRANKLIN: Yeah. And what's very interesting is that back in those days when there was no money for day care and a lot of kids stayed home by themselves in the summertime, there was a lot of unhealthy activity going on. And some of the listeners that were raised that way kind of know what I'm talking about. You play some little games like hide and go get and hide and go seek, and, you know, the little...
(Soundbite of laughter)
KEYES: I hadn't heard of the hide-and-go-get-it one.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FRANKLIN: Yeah, man, there were a lot of bad things happening in the hood. And, you know, sex, when it's not through a healthy lens, is misinterpreted for love because, I mean, if you're looking at me and, you know, I never heard my mom say she was proud of me. Even the lady that adopted me, it was never...
KEYES: Your great-great-great Aunt Gertrude.
Mr. FRANKLIN: Yeah, you know, I mean...
KEYES: You wrote in the book about how much that hurt you.
Mr. FRANKLIN: Yeah, because that older generation didn't do a lot of the reaffirmings. And so sex, whether it's pornography or whether it's being very promiscuous, you can get the wires crossed. And it became a thing of trying to fill in some of those love holes. And so, yes, sexual activity can be very addictive. Yes.
KEYES: You actually had some pretty clear suggestions for both men and women about how they should behave sexually in your book. Talk to me a little bit about that.
Mr. FRANKLIN: Well, I was even talking to someone yesterday about the parenting chapter, talking about just making parents more responsible. And I said, well, until we talk about our casual mindset in this society towards sex, we will never get the parenting situation really dealt with strong, because you have a lot of people that are parents that never really signed up to be parents. They were parents on accident because of our casual attitude towards sex because after the sexual revolution, we are more and more and more and more and more casual about sex. And sex is not only given from God for our pleasure, but sex is also given us from God to procreate.
And so when you don't plan that and now you are a parent, and I'm forcing your hand to sign up and be engaged and responsible, you're not going to do that with joy because that's not what you wanted to do. You were at the club, and she was fine and y'all hooked up. And now you're a parent.
KEYES: So you suggest that men and women should not have sex until they are on their way toward marriage, or they shouldn't have sex at all until they are married?
Mr. FRANKLIN: What I'm saying in the book is that there's no way to take out the God equation of that gift.
KEYES: What do you mean?
Mr. FRANKLIN: That there is nothing else that man and woman can do that is as powerful as sex, because two people can come together and procreate another one of them. That's a very powerful thing. And so it shouldn't be just given to whenever I feel like hooking up with somebody, to jump off some booty calls, because that's too powerful. For me to make another me, that's a very powerful gift. And it's the only gift given to us from God that allows us to do that.
KEYES: What did you suggest for men who fall into the I'm-going-to-find-this-fine-girl-at-a-club-and-take-her-home trap? What should they do in that situation, and what should the woman, who's the woman that's being taken home, do?
Mr. FRANKLIN: They should be having a developed relationship. If he knows nothing about her heart, if he knows nothing about her mind, and then when that night and day is over - and the reason why I believe we're seeing a lot of divorce is because we're hooking up with people that we didn't even know.
We're hooking up with people that was fine, maybe the sex was good, and then one or two years later, after a couple of babies, after, you know, some weight and some hair loss and you look up, and you're like, you know, who are you? Because we never knew each other after that club. We never knew each other after that motel.
And what I'm saying is that if I see you, and if I'm attracted to you, I've got to be able to look past that attraction and to better places. Like, man, you know, is this somebody that can make me a better person? Is this somebody that speaks to a deeper part of me?
KEYES: Kirk, you also had some suggestions for men and women about how to behave in a healthy and spiritually sound relationship. But a thing that you wrote that struck me was you suggested that women should treat their man like a king in front of her parents, in the bedroom, in front of her girlfriends. How should men treat their women if you are her king? Is she your queen?
Mr. FRANKLIN: He should treat her like the most powerful, important being on the planet. And she should always feel that value. And if she just feels like she's there just for your sexual release, then she will always be malnourished. And if she's a malnourished woman she won't be a healthy woman. And if she's not a healthy woman she can't do all the things that she was created to be. She was created to be this light and this power.
My wife makes me feel like I can climb a mountain. My wife makes me feel like I'm six-feet tall, and I'm only five-four, because I try to keep her in a healthy place. And when she's healthy, then she's able then minister to me.
If I'm the head that means that it's my job to make sure that everybody in the house is covered. It's my job to make my wife and children feel like that if there's a bullet, it's no question who's going to step in front of it. That's what being the head is, you know. That role means that you're the first one up and the last one to sleep, because it's your job to make sure that everybody is healthy and whole.
KEYES: What about those that see that point of view as being outdated in 2010, and plus there's so many households these days that are headed by women. I mean, where are they in that equation?
Mr. FRANKLIN: Well, then my first question is is the way that we're thinking working for us? When you look at the health of the family in the 21st century, when you look at the health of marriage in the 21st century, is it working for us? Is my way so archaic that it's stopped working and now this new way is making everybody healthy and happier? No.
And so even with women that are now single mom or even dads that are single dads, that's not the way that it was planned for it to be. Now, are there powerful women doing their thing and making it work? God, yes. Look at all the success stories. Look at Obama's story. I mean, look at my story.
But how much more stronger could Barack have been? How much more stronger could Kirk had been, if there had been a joint team making it stronger, making it healthy. Because I know. I had a kid when I was 17 and I didn't marry my son's mom. And I have kids by my wife. And I see the difference.
I mean, it is a day and night difference of how healthier the two kids that I have with my wife, because they've got this support team. It's like when I'm dealing with my son and if I'm too strong she comes in with that softer side. And now he's a well-balanced kid. And the same for my daughter.
Where, when my son's mother was trying to do it on her own - and she would call me at time, say, look, you know, I need you to come over and deal with this. I can't deal with this. And so we can play all we want to and act like we can do it all on our own, but we were not built that way. And we can't change the rules just because the game changed.
KEYES: Kirk, let me ask you. You write a lot in this book about the way you were wounded and the mistakes you made as a young person. Do you worry at all that young people will read this and think, okay, well, I can come from all those problems, I can smoke weed, I can sleep around, I can have my porn thing and then still be a success?
Mr. FRANKLIN: Well, hopefully that's not what a person will get from the book. I hope that I wrote the book with an ending, with a resolve, that if you realize that your life was bigger and greater from the beginning. Because a lot of the things that you just said were mistakes that I didn't know that my life was bigger. I didn't know that there was going to be a happy ending.
I even talk about, in the book, that for me dreaming was a luxury that I couldn't afford. I mean, especially not from my neighborhood. All of my friends are in prison. My sister has a crack cocaine addiction. She was in prison for 13 years. At the same time, her dad - my stepfather - was in prison for rape. Our biological grandfather was in prison at the same time for murder. So it's like I come from a family of wounded people, of broken people.
And so I'm not saying stay broken. And I'm not saying, in the book, to use sex or pornography or weed as a Band-Aid. I'm saying that these are the things that I used because I didn't have anything else, because I didn't have a blueprint. And so I'm trying to get way ahead of the game with people and say do not make these mistakes. And this is how the story looks when you make that change.
KEYES: Kirk Franklin is a Grammy award-winning gospel singer. His new book is "The Blueprint: A Plan for Living Above Life's Storms." He joined us right here in Washington, D.C.
Mr. FRANKLIN: Yeah, man.
KEYES: Thanks so much for sharing.
Mr. FRANKLIN: Yeah, man. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.