Meet Aretha Franklin’s famous preacher father with the million dollar voice

Stephen Nartey December 23, 2022
Clarence Franklin/Photo credit: Sun

He was a charismatic speaker and a preacher who got everyone’s attention with his baritone voice. When he sang during his sermons, he held his congregation spellbound with his silky voice. It later became a characteristic signature of Clarence Franklin.

He was 14 years old when he nurtured the desire to enter into ministry. He was resolute about dedicating his life to becoming a minister. According to Blackthen, Franklin was one of the most prominent preachers at New Bethel Baptist Church when he relocated to Detroit. He was one of the first ministers to place his sermons on records and later broadcast them on the radio on Sundays.

One of his sermons, “The Eagle Stirreth her Nest”, has been included in the Library of Congress National Recording Registry as one of the most important cultural, historical and aesthetical materials. He was born on January 22, 1915, in Sunflower County, Mississippi to Willie Walker and Rachel Walker Pittman.

His formative years were a troubling one, given the fact that his father abandoned him when he was 4 years old. He was named Clarence Walker but he took on the name of his adoptive father, Henry Franklin, after his mother remarried. He was not able to complete grade school but what he became later can be credited to the church, which was one of the strong citadels of socialization by the Black community.

He ventured into full-time gospel at the age of 16 professing his message of salvation with the Black preaching circuit before pitching camp with the churches in Memphis, Tennessee and Buffalo, New York. He became the head of the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan in 1946. Before he made this switch to Detroit, he shepherded ministries in the South and in Buffalo as well.

He was the fifth pastor to head the New Bethel Baptist Church established in 1932. He preached wherever he went in the 1940s and 50s, and became known as the man with the “Million Dollar Voice”. Aside from his growing popularity on the pulpit, his fine singing voice also caught the attention of many. He founded an acapella group with his first cousin, Anthony Alexander Chamblee.

He organized the Freedom March in Detroit that pulled a crowd of 500,000 with Martin Luther King Jr featuring prominently. Franklin was a civil rights activist but also became famous for being Aretha Franklin’s father. Aretha Franklin was the Queen of Soul.

Franklin was shot twice at point-blank range in what was believed to be a botched robbery incident at his home on Detroit’s West Side in June 1979. He was taken to the Henry Ford Hospital on nearby West Grand Boulevard.

The shooting incident placed him in a coma for the next five years. His children brought him home six months after the incident and employed a 24-hour nurse at the residence to offer him medical care. He passed away on July 27, 1984.  

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: December 23, 2022


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