C. L. Franklin

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C. L. Franklin
Franklin in 1975
Clarence LaVaughn Walker

(1915-01-22)January 22, 1915
Died(1984-07-27)July 27, 1984 (aged 69)
Cause of deathComplications of gunshot wounds
Burial placeWoodlawn Cemetery, Detroit[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)

(m. 1936; died 1952)
ChildrenSix (including Erma Franklin, Aretha Franklin, 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 from 1946 until he was shot and wounded in 1979. Franklin was the father of the American singer and songwriter Aretha Franklin. He was also the father of five other children, including Vaughn Franklin, Erma Franklin, Cecil Franklin, Carolyn Franklin and Carol Ellan.


Franklin was born Clarence LaVaughn Walker in Bolivar 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]

Franklin became a preacher at age 16, 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.[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 $4,000 per appearance for his public appearances, high fees for the time.[10]

Among Franklin's 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 and his life history in his own words are published in a volume edited by Jeff Todd Titon for the University of Illinois Press.[12] Franklin was also known for his singing voice and for mastery of a style of musical preaching traditional in the Black Baptist church called "whooping". In an attempt to limit his audience and popularity, William Branham plagiarized Franklin's famous "The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest" sermon, presenting to white audiences as a composition of his own.[13]

Franklin 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, Franklin 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.[14] He helped to lead Dr. King's freedom march down Woodward Avenue in Detroit in June 1963.[15]

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.[16] 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.[17]

In 2021, he was portrayed by Forest Whitaker in Respect.[18] He was portrayed by Courtney B. Vance in the anthology series Genius.

Personal life[edit]

On October 16, 1934, Franklin married his first wife, Alene Gaines, at the age of 18 and though that marriage had ended by early 1936, the form of dissolution is unconfirmed. On June 3, 1936, Franklin married gospel singer 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, Franklin fathered a daughter, Carol Ellan Kelley (née Jennings) (1940–2019), by Mildred Jennings, a 12-year-old member of his congregation. Carol Ellan was born November 17, 1940, during his tenure at New Salem Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, and was the last of his children to survive him.[19]

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 biological 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.[20] According to 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.[21] Barbara died of a heart attack in 1952 at age 34. Her husband did not attend her funeral.[22]


  1. ^ Zaniewski, Ann (August 20, 2018). "Aretha Franklin to join her family, Rosa Parks at Woodlawn Cemetery". Detroit Free Press.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Larkin, Colin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 490. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  3. ^ Salvatore, Nick (2005), Singing in a Strange Land: C. L. Franklin, the Black Church, and the Transformation of America, pp. 3–8.
  4. ^ Salvatore, p. 8.
  5. ^ "Franklin, Clarence LaVaughn | Detroit Historical Society". Detroithistorical.org. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  6. ^ "Friendship Missionary Baptist Church". Buffalo, NY: Friendshipmissionarybc.org. Archived from the original on March 21, 2012. Retrieved April 1, 2012.
  7. ^ "BHL: C. L. Franklin Papers". quod.lib.umich.edu. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  8. ^ a b c d "Franklin, Clarence LaVaughn | Detroit Historical Society". Detroithistorical.org. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  9. ^ "Rev. C.L. Franklin". Malaco Records. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  10. ^ Waxman, Olivia B. (August 16, 2018). "The Trauma and Resilience Behind Aretha Franklin's Soul Music". Time. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  11. ^ "New Entries to the National Recording Registry – News Releases (Library of Congress)". Loc.gov. Retrieved April 1, 2012.
  12. ^ Franklin, C. L. (Clarence LaVaughn) (1989). Give me this mountain : life history and selected sermons. Titon, Jeff Todd. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0252010183. OCLC 19128665.
  13. ^ "As The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest". William Branham Historical Research. Retrieved 2022-04-09.
  14. ^ Salvatore, p. 284.
  15. ^ "C.L. Franklin, 69, Activist And Father of Aretha Franklin". The New York Times. July 28, 1984. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  16. ^ Wilson, Scott (2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed. McFarland. ISBN 978-1476625997 – via Google Books.
  17. ^ "Eulogy of Rev. C. L. Franklin". Pastorssmiyj.wordpress.com. May 5, 2007. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  18. ^ "Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans Boarding Aretha Franklin Biopic 'Respect'". Hollywoodreporter.com. October 18, 2019. Retrieved August 28, 2021.
  19. ^ "Carol Ellan Kelley". Memorial Park Funeral Home & Cemetery.
  20. ^ Salvatore, pp. 122–23.
  21. ^ Salvatore, p. 123.
  22. ^ 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]