Gospel package tours with A-list artists Kirk Franklin, Fred Hammond and Yolanda Adams were hot tickets in the 1990s. Today, those national arena and theater tours are rarities.
JoyFest, which takes place at Southeastern amusement parks each summer is one of the only opportunities to catch gospel favorites in a traditional concert setting.
Franklin, who returns to Charlotte for JoyFest at Carowinds May 25, is working to change that. With the moxy that once compelled Ebony Magazine to dub him the P. Diddy of gospel music, Franklin is using his skills not just as an artist, but as a businessman to create opportunities for gospel artists. In 2012 he teamed with LiveNation to launch the concert promoters first gospel tour. The 16-city Kings Men Tour featured Franklin, Donnie McClurkin, Marvin Sapp and Israel Houghton.
On Mothers Day, Franklin launched Kirk Franklins Sunday Gospel Brunch with House of Blues, which hell curate during the national chains 20th year anniversary.
Franklin emerged as the 1990s biggest gospel star with 1993s Kirk Franklin & the Family and 1997s Gods Property. His popularity and record sales rivaled that of mainstream artists. Kirk Franklin & the Family went platinum, spending 100 weeks on the gospel charts and crossing over with R&B audiences. Later albums, such as 2012s Hello Fear, continue to crack Billboard 200s Top 5 while topping the gospel charts.
As with tours, gospel albums sales have taken a hit as have all genres. The economy is a factor with church-going audiences who already get live, inspirational music at church on Sunday.
Promoting quality music
I think there are a couple of things, says Franklin, calling from Los Angeles. With gospel music being such a niche market and with a lot of touring venues being taken over by major corporations like AEG and LIveNation thats always been a challenge for certain styles of music. These companies and these venues are more connected to mainstream styles of music whereas anything gospel was done by a local promoter in the community. When you dont have those local promoters at the forefront of whats happening in that community its hard for a genre like gospel to (succeed).
Hence his partnership with LiveNation.
I think my goal is always going to be the quality not the quantity, he says of creating similar package tours. Not to make it more (tours), but to make it better. When (audiences) do see it, its a good experience.
Franklin, 43, has long expanded outside the role of performer. He hosts BETs Sunday Brunch gospel competition series. He joined Jeff Foxworthy on the Game Show Networks American Bible Challenge as co-host and announcer this year (Some of the questions are more difficult than what you think of on Sunday morning, he says of the trivia format). Hes also a sought-after speaker.
For me its having the opportunity to do different things. Every artist who has a creative niche or an entrepreneurial side to them rappers or musicians want to act. Its more about having a chance to expand yourself, he says.
His latest venture is signing young gospel quartet The Walls Group to his Fo Yo Soul Entertainment. He discovered siblings Darrell, 20, Rhea, 16, Paco, 15, and Ahja, 14, on YouTube.
They were just phenomenal. I was impressed with their sound and freshness, says Franklin, who booked the group in the studio. As with the touring market, the declining record industry has Franklin thinking of new, innovative ways to spread their music. Im always thinking about different ways of how to communicate to people and I surround myself with creative people that are adept to whats happening to the culture. Thats why Im excited about this House of Blues venture. Im able to produce tours and curate content where I can take groups like the Walls.
Given the onslaught of shocking news, Franklin may see an upswing in listeners seeking solace in spiritual music.
Theres always some light in the midst of dark times. Sometimes its hard to find it. Im not one to say I have all the answers, but Im one to believe behind every difficult situation, good or bad, God is working something out for our good. The faithful can choose to see it that way. Ive chosen always to connect something to a bigger purpose.
All the opportunities Ive been blessed to be a part of in a genre that I love and bringing a message that I love to more people. And when I say more that doesnt mean sales or popularity.
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