In this exclusive interview with Gospel Today Editor EJ Gaines,Â Kirk Franklin talks about his historic The King’s Men Tour, and why the church’s support means more than we might have ever realized…
It’s no secret that the number of gospel concerts has dwindled significantly in the past decade. Even more, the idea of a national tour, complete with creative production, staging and lighting is virtually obsolete. The concept of the “Tour of Life” (featuring Fred Hammond, Yolanda Adams and Kirk Franklin in the mid-90’s) or the wildly successful “Hopeville” tour (the feel-good event starring Franklin, Adams and Donnie McClurkin) are just distant memories for many of us.
That’s why when Live Nation, the largest concert promoting company in the world, announced its partnership with Kirk Franklin to create a nationwide tour this year, it was major news for the industry.
For “The King’s Men” tour, Live Nation’s first foray into gospel music, Kirk Franklin enlisted the co-headlining support of gospel heavyweights Donnie McClurkin, Marvin Sapp and Israel Houghton. The 16-city tour has been labeled “historic” and the “must-see event of the year.” To promote it, the four have done everything from appearing at Bishop TD Jakes’ ManPower event to on-air performances and interviews on ABC’s The View.
Though the tour isn’t coming to my city, I’m purchasing airfare, hotel accommodations and more, just to say “I was there… I witnessed it.”
I have to admit that, when I think of the cost of it all, I shudder a bit. Still, I couldn’t get pastÂ this unshakeable feeling that my attendance– andÂ yourÂ attendance– matters more than we even realize.
And in a chat with Kirk Franklin last week, I found out why it does.
“When you look at the sales of Black music, across the board, sales are down 50%,” Kirk Franklin explains. With next year marking 20 years since the release of his debut album, Kirk Franklin & The Family, he’s no novice to the industry. Franklin’s is one of the most recognized names in music– Christian and beyond– and extensive touring, both domestically and internationally, is a way of life for him in a way that few in gospel music have experienced.
“When you look at the touring opportunities that are there, if it’s not hip-hop or something that has crossed-over to a White audience, it’s really struggling. The opportunities are not there, and it’s an issue of getting the audience to see the value in the product.”
At first glance, the “product” of gospel music seems invaluable. We all love Jesus, right? And we love the music that talks about Him. I dare say, we “value” our music, and its message, more than most. But that’s not the “product” to which Franklin is referring– it’s the singing. The performance.
“It’s a free product every week. You get it every Sunday,” he shares. “You can go to a conference and see Marvin Sapp for free, or to a Ministers’ Retreat and see Donnie McClurkin for free. Then, to turn around and ask people to spend $40 or $50 to see them on tour, it’s a very difficult dynamic to break.”
It’s been so long that many of us may have forgotten, but actualÂ tours (like “The King’s Men”) are about more than hearing someone sing. There’s originally recorded and scripted video content, intricate lighting, innovative staging, choreography and much more. Definitely not your standard “Sunday morning service” fare.
Now, clearly, everyone doesn’t need that. Some people are willing to forego the bells and whistles to keep a little cash in their pockets. But let’s be informed about the effects of that decision. Churchgoers who prefer the pews over the pizzazz are inadvertently saying “no” to much more than a show.
“What happens is that the music– gospel music– actually becomes limited to a church conference,” Kirk Franklin explains. “It’s limited to the Stellar Awards or [BET's]Â Celebration of Gospel. And that’s where it stays. It doesn’t grow and it doesn’t get any more opportunities.”
“This is the first time in a long time– maybe over 10 years– that there’s a chance to break that cycle and that image. But it’s going to take the church community to understand that the music you love on Sunday mornings, if you don’t support it outside of that format, it’s going to die.”
Lest you believe that Franklin thinks he– or the music he sings– has somehow outgrown the church, it’s clear that he is more than appreciative of the local church community. “I honestly don’t have the solution,” he acknowledges. “It’s not to say that artists shouldn’t do a church event, but it would be great if the church’s mindset would be to tell the community: ‘Now, when they come back to do a tour, we’ve all gotta buy tickets’.”
“I wish that there was a way that artists and pastors could sit and talk, and have a realistic dialogue about what it’s doing to the industry,” he says. “It’s like one thing is suffocating the other. We need to join together to figure out how to get it to survive.”
Despite the uphill climb that the gospel industry– touring, in particular– is facing, Franklin remains grateful and hopeful for the future of the music, and the opportunities that God will afford it.
“Success, for us, is just the opportunity to even do it,” he says humbly.Â “Of course, for Live Nation, success is going to be a bit more about the financial side of what happens with this tour, and for these corporations.”
It feels like such a tall order. I asked him, “So, what’s the game plan?”
“We’re just going to keep working at it,” Franklin declared confidently, “trying to knock at the door every chance we get.”
Tickets for The King’s Men Tour are available now at Ticketmaster.
Find a city close to you and get there. It’s about more than a tour.