C. L. Franklin

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C. L. Franklin
Franklin in 1975.
Clarence LaVaughn Walker

(1915-01-22)January 22, 1915
DiedJuly 27, 1984(1984-07-27) (aged 69)
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Cause of deathComplications of gunshot wounds
Resting placeWoodlawn Cemetery (Detroit, Michigan)[1]
EducationJackson College (now Jackson State University)
Years active1931–1979
Known forNew Bethel Baptist Church minister, father of Aretha Franklin
Alene Gaines
(m. 1934; div. 1936)

Barbara Siggers
(m. 1936; died 1952)
ChildrenSix (including Erma, Aretha, and Carolyn Franklin)

Clarence LaVaughn Franklin ( Walker; January 22, 1915 – July 27, 1984) was an American Baptist minister and civil rights activist.[2] Known as the man with the "Million-Dollar Voice", Franklin served as the pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan, from 1946 until he was shot and wounded in 1979. Franklin was also the father of the American singer and songwriter Aretha Franklin.


He was born Clarence LaVaughn Walker in Sunflower County, Mississippi, United States,[2] to sharecroppers Willie and Rachel (née Pittman) Walker.[3] 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.[4] Willie Walker abandoned the family when Clarence was four years old. The next year Rachel married Henry Franklin, whose surname the family adopted.[5]

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,[6] where he served until June 1946 when he became pastor of the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan.[7] Throughout the late 1940s and 1950s his fame grew. He preached throughout the country, while maintaining his pulpit at New Bethel. Known as the man with the "Million Dollar Voice",[8] Franklin had many of his sermons recorded into the 1970s (many of them issued by Joe Von Battle's JVB label),[2] and broadcast sermons via radio on Sundays.[9] He commanded up to $4000 per appearance for his public appearances, high fees for the time.[10]

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.[11] Selected sermons are published in a volume edited by the University of Illinois Press.[12] Franklin was also known for his singing voice, and a style of preaching that segued organically into song; he also encouraged his daughter Aretha Franklin in her musical endeavors.[2] During the 1950s he took her with him on speaking tours and musical engagements,[2] and formed an a cappella group with Anthony Alexander Chamblee, his first cousin.

In the 1950s and 1960s, he became involved in the civil rights movement,[2] and worked to end discriminatory practices against black United Auto Workers members in Detroit.[8] Franklin was a friend and supporter of Martin Luther King Jr.[13] He helped to lead Dr. King's freedom march down Woodward Avenue in Detroit in June 1963.[14]

Assault, death and legacy[edit]

Shortly after midnight on Sunday, June 10, 1979, Franklin was shot twice at point-blank range during what was believed to have been 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.[8]

The Franklin children moved him back to his house six months after the shooting; he received 24-hour nursing care and remained at home until the middle of 1984. He died on July 27, 1984, aged 69, in Detroit's New Light Nursing Home.[8] Franklin was entombed at Detroit's Woodlawn Cemetery on North Woodward Avenue.[15] Franklin's friend, the Rev. Jasper Williams Jr., of the Salem Bible Church of Atlanta, Georgia, gave the eulogy. Rev. Williams also eulogized Rev. Franklin's daughter, Aretha, in 2018. [16]

On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed C. L. Franklin among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.[17]

Personal life[edit]

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 (1942–2018), and Carolyn (1944–1988). As noted by his biographer, Nick Salvatore, C.L. fathered a daughter, Carol Ellan Kelley (née Jennings) (1940-2019), by Mildred Jennings, a 12-year-old member of his congregation, on November 17, 1940. Carol Ellan was born during his tenure at New Salem Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee and was the last of his children to survive him.[18]

Barbara had a son by a previous relationship, Vaughn (1934–2002), whom C. L. adopted shortly after the marriage. Vaughn did not learn that C. L. Franklin was not his father until 1951. When C.L. and Barbara separated (for the last time), Barbara moved with Vaughn to Buffalo, New York, leaving Franklin with the couple's four other children. The couple never divorced.[19] According to a biographer, Nick Salvatore of Cornell University, Barbara made periodic trips to Detroit to visit her children and they traveled to New York to visit her during summer vacations.[20] Barbara died of a heart attack in 1952 at the age of 34. Her husband did not attend her funeral.[21]

Franklin is known to have had a longtime affair with gospel artist Clara Ward, among other infidelities.


  1. ^ Zaniewski, Ann. "Aretha Franklin to join her family, Rosa Parks at Woodlawn Cemetery". Detroit Free Press.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 490. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  3. ^ Salvatore, Singing in a Strange Land, pp. 3-8.
  4. ^ Salvatore, p. 8.
  5. ^ "Franklin, Clarence LaVaughn | Detroit Historical Society". Detroithistorical.org. Retrieved 2018-08-17.
  6. ^ "Friendship Missionary Baptist Church - Buffalo, New York". Friendshipmissionarybc.org. Archived from the original on 2012-03-21. Retrieved 2012-04-01.
  7. ^ "BHL: C. L. Franklin Papers". quod.lib.umich.edu. Retrieved 2018-08-17.
  8. ^ a b c d "Franklin, Clarence LaVaughn | Detroit Historical Society". Detroithistorical.org. Retrieved 2018-08-17.
  9. ^ "Rev. C.L. Franklin". Malaco Records. Retrieved 2018-08-17.
  10. ^ "The Trauma and Resilience Behind Aretha Franklin's Soul Music". Time. Retrieved 2018-08-17.
  11. ^ "New Entries to the National Recording Registry - News Releases (Library of Congress)". Loc.gov. Retrieved 2012-04-01.
  12. ^ 1915-1984., Franklin, C. L. (Clarence LaVaughn) (1989). Give me this mountain : life history and selected sermons. Titon, Jeff Todd, 1943-. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0252010183. OCLC 19128665.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ Salvatore, p. 284.
  14. ^ "C.L. Franklin, 69, Activist And Father of Aretha Franklin". The New York Times. Retrieved 2018-08-17.
  15. ^ Wilson, Scott (August 19, 2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed. McFarland. ISBN 9781476625997 – via Google Books.
  16. ^ "Eulogy of Rev. C. L. Franklin". Preach Stephen.Com-Pastor Stephen F. Smith. 2007-05-05. Retrieved 2018-08-17.
  17. ^ Rosen, Jody (25 June 2019). "Here Are Hundreds More Artists Whose Tapes Were Destroyed in the UMG Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 June 2019.
  18. ^ "Carl Ellan Kelley". Memorial Park Funeral Home & Cemetery.
  19. ^ Salvatore, pp. 122–23.
  20. ^ Salvatore, p. 123.
  21. ^ Salvatore, p. 125.

Further reading[edit]

  • Nick Salvatore, Singing in a Strange Land: C. L. Franklin, the Black Church, and the Transformation of America, Little Brown, 2005. Hardcover ISBN 0-316-16037-7.
  • Jules Schwerin, Got to Tell It: Mahalia Jackson, Queen of Gospel, Oxford University Press, 1992. Paperback ISBN 0-19-509050-0.
  • Interview with Nick Salvatore, author of Singing in a Strange Land, NPR.
  • Willa Ward-Royster, How I Got Over: Clara Ward and the World-Famous Ward Singers, Temple University Press, 1997. Paperback ISBN 1-56639-490-2.
  • Aretha Franklin and David Ritz, Aretha: From These Roots, Villard Books (a division of Random House), 1999. Hardcover ISBN 0-375-50033-2.
  • C. L. Franklin, Give Me This Mountain: Life History and Selected Sermons. Edited by Jeff Todd Titon. University of Illinois Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-252-06087-8.

External links[edit]