A Soulful Voice

Clarence LaVaughn (C.L.) Franklin was born in 1915 in Mississippi. He grew up in poverty and attended an inferior segregated school where most of the teachers did not have a high school degree. He was a fan of blues music even though those in his family and church considered it to be devil’s music.

At the age of 16, C.L. decided to become a preacher. He began preaching at an early age and was able to obtain formal training at a seminary. As his reputation grew as a preacher, he moved from Memphis to Buffalo and then to Detroit.

C.L. and his second wife had 4 children together. Over time, C.L. became influenced by the social gospel. He started a food ministry, provided support for the homeless, and began a prison ministry. He was known for his voice and became one of the first preachers to record his sermons on records. Over his lifetime, he recorded 76 albums of gospel songs and sermons.

He became close to famous gospel singers Mahalia Jackson and Clara Ward who encouraged his daughter as a gospel singer. C.L. would often take his daughter on preaching tours with him.

As the Civil Rights movement became active, C.L. became involved in organized demonstrations. He and Martin Luther King organized a march in Detroit to end racial discrimination. He was active in the Urban League, the NAACP, and the Southern Christian Leadership Council.

In 1979, C.L. was gravely wounded in a burglary attempt at his home. He never regained consciousness after 5 years. His funeral service attracted a gathering of political leaders, civil rights leaders, and parishioners. Another 6,000 people listened to the service outside the church.

Hidden heroes leave legacies in many different ways. Certainly, C.L. Franklin’s legacy was well established through his social ministry, his civil rights initiatives, and the sermons distributed throughout the country. But he is virtually unknown today for those achievements. The most memorable legacy that he left was the nurturing of the singing voice of his daughter, Aretha – the greatest soul singer of all time.

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“We all require and want respect, man or woman, black or white. It’s our basic human right.” – Aretha Franklin

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