Who was Aretha Franklin's preacher father CL Franklin?

27 May 2021, 16:01

Aretha Franklin with her father CL Franklin
Aretha Franklin with her father CL Franklin. Picture: Getty

From a young age, Aretha Franklin was exposed to music thanks to her parents' involvement with the church.

But who was Aretha's father Clarence LaVaughn Franklin? He is played by actor Forest Whitaker in the biopic Respect, opposite Jennifer Hudson as the Queen of Soul.

Raising Aretha and marriage breakdown

CL Franklin was a Baptist minister and circuit preacher, originally from Shelby, Mississippi. Like Aretha's mother, her father already had a child from a prior relationship, a daughter named Carl Ellan Kelley, who died in 2019. He had fathered the child with Mildred Jennings, a 12-year-old member of his congregation, when he was aged 25.

Reverend Franklin In Detroit in 1976
Reverend Franklin In Detroit in 1976. Picture: Getty

By the time Aretha turned five, CL Franklin had permanently relocated the family (Aretha also had three other siblings) to Detroit, where he took over the pastorship of the New Bethel Baptist Church.

Read more: How many children did Aretha Franklin have and where are they now?

Her parents had a difficult marriage due to her father's infidelities, and they eventually separated in 1948. Her mother passed away from a heart attack in 1952, when Aretha was nine.

Celebrity status

CL Franklin's highly-charged sermons led to him being known as the man with the "million-dollar voice." He also earned thousands of dollars for preaching in various churches across the country. He also became friends with Martin Luther King Jr, Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke.

His most famous sermons included 'The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest' and 'Dry Bones in the Valley'. In 2011, the former was added to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.

It was his singing that encouraged Aretha in her musical path. During the 1950s, he took her with him on tours and musical events.

Read more: Aretha Franklin's 10 greatest songs ever, ranked

He also became involved in the civil rights movement, and helped to lead Martin Luther King's freedom march down Woodward Avenue in Detroit in June 1963.

Assault and death

On Sunday, June 10, 1979, CL Franklin was shot twice at point-blank range in what was reported to have been an attempted robbery at his home.

He remained in a coma for the next five years. The Franklin children moved him back to his house six months after the shooting, and he received 24-hour nursing care.

He died on July 27, 1984, aged 69, in Detroit's New Light Nursing Home.