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Published: Saturday, 11/23/2002

Gospel music and more


Kirk Franklin knows the importance of hope - it's what kept him alive during his troubled teenage years, the singer said.

He is anxious to spread a message of hope when the Hopeville concert tour - also starring Yolanda Adams and Donnie McClurkin - comes Monday night to the SeaGate Convention Centre.

“It's a very special show,” Mr. Franklin said last week. “I think that it's timely. People need hope. Everybody's afraid, looking behind their back, worried about what's going on overseas [in Iraq].”

He said Hopeville, which is on a 35-city tour, is “a West Side Story-type of production” with an elaborate stage, choreography, and interaction among its three vocal stars.

Mr. Franklin, 32, who grew up in Fort Worth, Tex., never knew his father and was abandoned by his mother. He was raised by a devoutly religious aunt who made sure he attended church and studied the Bible. His aunt recognized her nephew's musical skills at an early age and collected and cashed in aluminum cans to pay for piano lessons. By 11, Mr. Franklin was earning $100 a week as leader of the Mt. Rose Baptist Church choir in Dallas.

During his teen years, however, Mr. Franklin rebelled from his upbringing and became entangled in street crimes, drugs, and violence.

“There were times when I could've been killed, I could've been shot, I could've been addicted to drugs or alcohol,” he said.

When a close friend was shot and killed, Mr. Franklin quickly cleaned up his act.

“That was what turned my life around, unquestionably,” the singer said. “God allowed me to just get back on the path and to learn from my mistakes and just keep growing in Him,” he said.

He decided to focus all his efforts on music.

Mr. Franklin released his first CD, “Kirk Franklin and the Family,” in 1993, and became a star of Christian music in 1996 with the chart-topping album “Watcha Lookin' 4.” Mr. Franklin, who has recorded with such notables as Toby Mac, Bishop T.D. Jakes, and Crystal Lewis, broke through to the mainstream in 1997 with “Stomp,” a crossover hit single that reached the Top 10 on the pop charts.

While he wants his music to reach as broad an audience as possible, Mr. Franklin said he wasn't intentionally aiming for mainstream success.

“There's no format or formula that you can use in this genre,” he said. “If that's what God wants, then that's cool. But I'm not seeking that.”

The father of “four beautiful children” and the winner of three Grammy Awards, Mr. Franklin will be joined in Hopeville by Ms. Adams and Mr. McClurkin.

“They are two of the best gospel singers in the world,” he said. “It's a blessing just to be a part of their ministry.”

Ms. Adams, who won the 2000 Grammy Award for best contemporary soul gospel album, worked with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on her latest album, “Believe.”

Mr. McClurkin, a native of Amityville, N.Y., is known for last year's million-selling gospel hit single, “We Fall Down.”

While Hopeville is at heart a gospel concert, its message of hope will appeal to people of all backgrounds and faiths, Mr. Franklin said. “That's the power of the music,” he said, “to present the hope and the inspiration of the gospel in a way that is entertaining and touches people's hearts.”

Hopeville, featuring Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams, and Donnie McClurkin, with Smokie Norful opening, comes to the SeaGate Convention Centre, 401 Jefferson Ave., at 8 p.m. Monday.

Tickets are $29.50, $35.50, and $37.50 from the box office, 419-321-5007, and Ticketmaster.

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