He was a charismatic speaker and preacher whose baritone voice drew everyone’s attention. His silky voice held his congregation spellbound when he sang during his sermons. It later became Clarence Franklin’s distinctive signature.
He had the desire to enter the ministry when he was 14 years old. He was determined to devote his life to becoming a minister. When Franklin moved to Detroit, he was one of the most prominent preachers at New Bethel Baptist Church, according to Blackthen. He was one of the first ministers to record his sermons and later broadcast them on Sundays on the radio.
“The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest,” one of his sermons, has been included in the Library of Congress National Recording Registry as one of the most important cultural, historical, and aesthetical materials. Willie Walker and Rachel Walker Pittman gave birth to him on January 22, 1915, in Sunflower County, Mississippi.
His formative years were difficult because his father abandoned him when he was four years old. He was born Clarence Walker, but after his mother remarried, he took on the name of his adoptive father, Henry Franklin. He was unable to complete grade school, but what he became later can be attributed to the church, which was one of the Black community’s strongholds of socialization.
He began his full-time gospel ministry at the age of 16, preaching his message of salvation on the Black preaching circuit before settling in with churches in Memphis, Tennessee and Buffalo, New York. In 1946, he was appointed pastor of the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan. Prior to moving to Detroit, he oversaw ministries in the South as well as Buffalo.
He was the fifth pastor of the New Bethel Baptist Church, which was founded in 1932. In the 1940s and 1950s, he became known as the man with the “Million Dollar Voice,” preaching wherever he went. Aside from his growing popularity as a preacher, his fine singing voice drew the attention of many. With his first cousin, Anthony Alexander Chamblee, he formed an acapella group.
He organized the Detroit Freedom March, which drew 500,000 people and featured Martin Luther King Jr. prominently. Franklin was a civil rights activist who also happened to be Aretha Franklin’s father. The Queen of Soul was Aretha Franklin.
Franklin was shot twice at point blank range at his home on Detroit’s West Side in June 1979, in what was thought to be a botched robbery. He was taken to nearby West Grand Boulevard’s Henry Ford Hospital.
He was in a coma for the next five years as a result of the shooting. Six months after the incident, his children brought him home and hired a 24-hour nurse to provide him with medical care. On July 27, 1984, he died.