“The Last Soul Company”

Rev. C.L. Franklin

rev C L franklin profile2

Among recording preachers of the 20th century, the Reverend C.L. Franklin was one of the most popular, most powerful and most emulated. His technique combined the even-toned oratory of college-educated Protestant ministers with the explosive whoops and hollers of African American folk preaching. As Franklin related to historian Jeff Todd Titon, his purpose was to reach congregants’ “minds as well as their emotions.”

He was born Clarence LaVaughn Walker on January 22, 1915, near Indianola, Mississippi, to sharecroppers Rachel and Willie Walker. Willie abandoned the family when Clarence was four years old, and when Rachel married Henry Franklin, the family adopted the Franklin surname. C.L. grew up listening to blues records by Blind Lemon Jefferson and Roosevelt Sykes but also to recorded sermons by the Reverend J.M. Gates.

Inspired to preach after admiring the eloquence of Baptist minister Reverend Benjamin J. Perkins, Franklin accepted the call to ministry and was ordained around age 17. He preached for several churches in Mississippi until settling into a pastorate at New Salem Baptist Church in Memphis, where he remained until 1944. While in Memphis, Franklin furthered his studies at LeMoyne College. From 1944 to 1946, he led Friendship Baptist Church in Buffalo, New York, and in June 1946, was installed as pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan.

By harnessing the power of radio and records, Franklin built New Bethel into an influential ministry not only in Detroit, but throughout the nation. Around 1952, Franklin brokered time on WJLB to broadcast New Bethel’s Sunday evening service on radio. As early as 1949, local record store owner Joe Battle began recording Franklin’s singing and his sermons. By 1953, Battle was pressing the recordings on his J-V-B label and selling them from his shop. He leased the recordings to Chess Records of Chicago, which issued Franklin’s sermons on its own imprint starting in 1956. Chess continued the relationship with Franklin after the J-V-B issues ceased, even establishing a special “Sermon Series” devoted almost exclusively to his lessons, recorded live in service at New Bethel. During the 1970s, Franklin’s sermons were released by Stan Lewis’ Jewel Records.

Franklin’s recorded sermons sold millions of copies. One of the most popular, The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest (ca. 1953), was inducted into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry. Other popular Franklin recorded sermons were Dry Bones in the Valley (mid-1950s), Pressing On (ca. 1955) and The Prodigal Son (ca. 1954). It is estimated that he recorded 76 sermons in his career. Many preachers emulated Franklin’s style of starting a sermon with a learned exposition of the text and concluding with the half-sung, half-shouted folk poetry characteristic of the African American church.

Known as the pastor with the Million Dollar Voice, Franklin could also sing his congregation into spiritual hysteria. His two-sided recording of the lining hymn I Love the Lord, He Heard My Cry is one example of how with just a line or two of sung verse Franklin could send congregants, females in particular, into audible fits.

Franklin married Barbara Siggers in 1936. Before her death in 1952, Barbara gave birth to four children: Erma (1938), Cecil (1940), Aretha (1942) and Carolyn (1944). Aretha, named for one of C.L.’s sisters, sang at her father’s worship services and accompanied him when he toured the country with the Ward Singers and other top gospel artists. She made her own recording debut at New Bethel in 1956 during one of her father’s services; likewise, Franklin appeared on Aretha’s albums of gospel music.

In addition to his church ministry, Franklin participated in the Civil Rights Movement. He helped bring the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Detroit in 1963, where King presented an early version of his I Have a Dream speech. Franklin helped end discrimination against African American members of the United Automobile Workers union.

On June 10, 1979, Franklin was shot trying to foil a robbery in his church. He remained in a coma for five years and passed away on July 27, 1984. His funeral was one of the largest Detroit had seen at that time.

As a testament to the timelessness of the Reverend C.L. Franklin’s teaching, Malaco Records has made many of his most popular recorded sermons available on CD.


Essential Albums


  • Lo, I Am With You Always -Ye Must Be Born AgainBuy from: malaco
  • Fret Not Thyself – This Is My Beloved SonBuy from: malaco
  • A Wild Man Meets Jesus – The Rich Young RulerBuy from: malaco
  • Pressing OnBuy from: malaco
  • Dry Bones In The Valley – Golden CalfBuy from: malaco
  • Jesus Met The Woman At The Well – Hosea & Gomer The ProstituteBuy from: malaco
  • The Legendary FranklinsBuy from: malaco     itunes     google play     amazon

    Listen Now: spotify Spotify
  • Paul’s Meditation On ImmortalityBuy from: malaco
  • Following Jesus – The Inner ConflictBuy from: malaco
  • Two Fish & Five Loaves of BreadBuy from: malaco     itunes     google play
  • I Heard It Through The Grapevine – Man On The MoonBuy from: malaco
  • Come Unto Me Lazarus – Paul’s Hymn Of LoveBuy from: malaco
  • Nehemiah & The Great Work – Did Not Our Hearts Burn?Buy from: malaco
  • The Story Of Job – Study To Show ThyselfBuy from: malaco
  • The Meaning Of Black PowerBuy from: malaco
  • For The Love Of GodBuy from: malaco
  • Why Are You Afraid? – What Think Ye Of Jesus?Buy from: malaco
  • Fishermen, Drop Your Nets – Counting The CostsBuy from: malaco
  • The Eternity Of The Church – A Bigot Meets JesusBuy from: malaco
  • The Preacher That Got Drunk – Moses At The Red SeaBuy from: malaco
  • Jacob Wrestling The Angel – The Barren Fig TreeBuy from: malaco
  • The Foolish And Wise Builder – Why Have The Mighty FallenBuy from: malaco
  • Ye Are The Salt Of The Earth – The Fiery FurnaceBuy from: malaco
  • The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest 2Buy from: malaco
  • My Kingdom Is Not Of This World – John’s Vision Of A New HeavenBuy from: malaco
  • Satan Goes To A Prayer Meeting – The Lords PrayerBuy from: malaco
  • Moses Sends Three Spies – Silver And Gold Have I NoneBuy from: malaco
  • All Good Things Work Together For The Good – What Must I Do To Be SavedBuy from: malaco
  • The Ideal Mother – The Eagle Stirreth Her NestBuy from: malaco     itunes     google play
  • A Faith To See Us Through The Storm – Let Your Hair DownBuy from: malaco
  • The King Lord Of Host – King Of The JewsBuy from: malaco
  • Give Me This Mountain – Greatest Love StoryBuy from: malaco
  • The Rich Man & The Beggar – There Is Danger In A CrowdBuy from: malaco

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