Black History Month: Legacy & Scandal in the Famous Franklin Family

Hi, friends. February draws to a close, so I leave off with one more post for Black History Month. The four posts were related to church and music this year; I may pick a different theme next year, though I don’t want to because these are fun!

Many have heard of Aretha Franklin (R-E-S-P-E-C-T/ Find out what it means to me), but what about the man who raised her? 

The Reverend C.L. Franklin


Rev. C.L. Franklin, originally named Clarence LaVaughn Walker, was born to sharecroppers in Sunflower City, Mississippi in 1915. His real father left when he was young, and he later adopted the surname “Franklin” from his stepfather. He started preaching in the black itinerant preaching circuit at age 16. [A circuit preacher officiates multiple churches at once due to finances, size, etc. My small UMC shares a pastor with another small UMC down the road.] His historical impact began when he landed a pastoral assignment at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan in 1946. He was one of the first to record his sermons and broadcast them via radio on Sundays; he acquired the nickname “The Man with the Million Dollar Voice.” He even went on speaking tours, adding a twist to the already popular idea of travelling gospel singers. Sadly, a violent home attack left Rev. Franklin in a coma for five years. He died in 1984.

Singer Aretha Franklin


Aretha Franklin was born in 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee (about four years before her father began preaching in Detroit). Rev. Franklin, a fine singer himself, recognized her talent early. She was playing the piano by ear before age 10. She sang solos at church, and when she was 14, Rev. Franklin started bringing her on his speaking tours to sing. Her first record in 1956 included Dr. King’s favorite hymn, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” She took an affection to Sam Cooke, the “King of Soul,” and he inspired her to venture into pop music. She signed with Columbia and began her career in secular music in 1960. Her first secular album dropped the following year. She was the first woman to receive a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, and from 1955-2012, Franklin had 88 songs make the Billboard chart. She is still living and performing, though she suffers from health issues.

Legacies Tainted by Scandal?

The idea for this post came from my witnessing rare video footage of a sermon by Rev. Franklin. An old professor who knew Rev. Franklin displayed the sermon in a conference presentation. I’d never heard of the reverend before that, but his sermon moved me in strange ways. His delivery was poetic, and as the sermon commenced, the room around me melted away, and I became entranced by his voice. I learned that the enrapturing method he used is called whooping.

I didn’t imagine that this post would differ from the others, but I’ve unexpectedly come across multiple sources with unflattering things to say about the Franklins. This article makes both intriguing and questionable assertions about black Christian music, the Franklins, and the Civil Rights Movement. Some of its accusations: he coerced the church into funding a mansion for his family, he evaded tens of thousands of dollars in taxes, he was a womanizer, etc. According to the Aretha Franklin biography entitled Respect, Franklin was a diva with an insatiable appetite for sex. She had her first son at age 12, and some say that her father’s example caused that. The worst accusation in my devout opinion, which is confirmed by R&B singer Ray Charles (look it up if you don’t believe me), is that gay and straight orgies occurred regularly in the church.

I don’t know what’s true and what isn’t, but assuming that the rumors have some basis in reality, this is just another tragic example of the dark side to fame and glory. For the better and the worse, we often sweep these things under the rug after cultural idols die, choosing to remember their best rather than their worst.

Now I better understand the purpose of recently deceased Billy Graham’s Modesto Manifesto. [Evangelists should avoid the temptations of greed, sexual immorality, etc.]

Thanks for reading! Did you already know about these rumors, or are they as shocking to you as they were to me?


11 responses to “Black History Month: Legacy & Scandal in the Famous Franklin Family”

  1. I didn’t know, but I ignore rumors. They exist to shame and humiliate people without the burden of evidence or truth. They lead to pain, destruction, and murder. (I lost a friend because of rumors.) They’re often insidious, and there’s already too much hate, suspicion, and intolerance in the world, IMO. I know you’re floored by what you discovered, and offended by the implications toward people alleging the same faith.

    Personally, I don’t believe it. Some people love salacious rumors of incredible depravity about famous people; especially online where people think they’re anonymous and unaccountable. It does say plenty about whoever would start such stories, though. I hope you take it with a grain of logical salt and don’t accept this as a stain on your faith family.

    As far as Aretha’s alleged sexual appetite, I’m indifferent. If she were a man ho, nobody would judge. Women are allowed to love sex, too. Why it would show up in her biography is curious, but mostly funny to me. Americans seem to want every detail about the private lives of famous people, and if they can’t find it, they just make it up. Heh. 💜

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope you’re right that the rumors are lies! I was taken aback by them. Whatever is and isn’t true, some people (including me) have been touched by Rev. Franklin’s words, and Aretha was still the first woman in the rock n’ roll hall of fame with 88 chart toppers! Also, you’re right that sexual perversion wouldn’t be considered shocking in a male rockstar.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Way to frame it with eyes that see the good in everything!! That’s a lovely skill. 🙃

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve never read anything about Aretha or her father. Becoming famous and having adoration from the public is a hard road to travel to stay humble and kind. I would hate being famous! It is kind of like King David and Solomon. They relied on God until they became rich and famous kings.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I never heard this. This is sadly more common than many realize.


  5. Lily, Great job of presenting the information you found. We can individually investigate further if any item draws our curiousity. Interesting ‘rumor’ told to me by Mr Billy: Aretha’s father was not Rev Franklin, but rather Minnesota Fats . Fact or fiction?


    1. that was Eda James who Father was suppose to be Minnesota Fats. Location of where she and her mom grow up I’d say there is nothing closely supporting that thought


  6. Recently, Lilly, I wrote a three part series of posts concerning the Jimmy Swaggart/Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker/Marvin Gorman sex and financial scandal/scandals (yes, all three were intertwined.) I wanted to precedent what I am about to write to be clear–this is a problem NOT predominately indicative of the “Black” church.
    Yes, these so called rumors have been confirmed. Aretha Franklin’s father the “reverend” C.L. Franklin fathered a daughter, Carl Ellan Kelley “Nee” Jennings, by then twelve year old Mildred Jennings, a member of the church Franklin preached at. That, sadly, grievously, is a fact. And yes, Ray Charles did make the comment about orgies taking place at C.L. Franklin’s home. Charles had been to one of these orgies and, though he was famously promiscuous, he was disturbed by what went on.
    These abuses mirror the scandals I wrote about within the “White” church. I’m leaving a link to the first one in the series. The other two can be found on my blog as well if you are interested.


  7. unfortunately I read about her father and his sexual appetite a few years ago.. I was totally disgusted… ,what a parent… sad,…also sam cooke and his relationship to all that ….do your research ,, as I used to hear the old folks say……”Everyone is not lying”


  8. Jimise Phillips Avatar
    Jimise Phillips

    I personally do not care if it is true! Aretha was a phenomenal woman and entertainer! The fact is, we are all human and with that said, nobody is perfect!


  9. she was too young having kids


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