Kirk Franklin: How He Forever Changed Gospel

Traditional Gospel

Gospel music originated in the early twentieth century. The largest influence on the sound of early gospel music was negro spirituals.  These songs were inspired by the pain and suffering that African Americans were going through at the time and discussed biblical themes as a way of expressing hope in times of despair. As African Americans moved to different cities, gospel began to change. The “church choir” became a central aspect of gospel music. Gospel drew influences from other genres such as jazz and blues. Outside of the church, gospel singers and choirs began to perform for large audiences, spreading its outreach beyond the church. 

Kirk Franklin's Beginnings

In the early 90s, Kirk Franklin emerged as a new gospel artist. Kirk Franklin grew up in the church as a child, playing the piano at his local church and being involved in ministry. Franklin began his career as the leader of the choir “The Humble Hearts” which eventually developed into Kirk Franklin & The Family Gospel Choir. His first album, “Kirk Franklin & The Family”, produced under GospoCentric Records, was a major success. The album was the first gospel album to reach the top 40 of the Billboard 200 chart and millions of copies were sold.

A New Spin on Gospel

Kirk Franklin brought a new sound to gospel music when he entered the genre in the early 90s. He incorporated other genres such as R&B, Pop, and hip-hop into his music. Kirk Franklin and his choir were known for their high energy and innovative approach to praise and worship. Call and response was often incorporated in the songs that Franklin performed. Aside from the influences he took from other genres, what made Kirk Franklin’s music different was his emphasis on performance. Crowd participation was a large part of his performances, with Kirkland often encouraging the audience to sing along and share their voices and testimonies. Another important aspect of his performance was choreography. Franklin added dance moves that resembled popular dances of the time in order to add another level of energy and excitement to his performances. As a result of straying from the traditional gospel sound, Franklin received a lot of criticism, with some claiming that his more secular sound strayed too far from how gospel music was supposed to sound. Even through the criticism, Kirk Franklin stayed true to his vision for his music and had a major impact on the advancement of gospel music. Through his ministry, Franklin was able to reach the younger generation by changing his approach while delivering the same message, which was the word of God. 

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