Gospel great Kirk Franklin is a talented pianist, music director, songwriter, hype man, MC, and a pretty decent rapper, dancer and mime. But by his own admission, he is a man with “limited singing ability.” Just don’t ever let that keep you from attending one of his praise and worship concerts.
Throughout his career, the 41-year-old Franklin has expertly aggregated all the talents that he was given with those of a remarkable group of strong vocalists. Friday night’s show at the Fox Theater was no exception. And while you might not call everything Franklin does gospel, certainly not in the traditional sense, there’s no denying that the spiritual and uplifting label sticks every time.
Franklin and eight singers — including BET “Sunday Best” Season 4 winner Amber Bullock — entertained fans or “family,” as Franklin likes to call them, for three non-stop hours with tunes that ranged from the traditional “Never Alone” to the more contemporary “Why We Sing,” which helped put Franklin on the map in the early ’90s.
For the first hour, Franklin allowed singers Deon Kipping, Jason Nelson, Isaac Carree and Bullock to strut their powerful vocals individually and collectively. Carree, who lives here in Atlanta, is certainly gospel artist to watch. He easily took command of the stage and audience with his spirit-raising “In the Middle” and “Shout it Out,” both tunes from his recently released “Uncommon Me.”
But it was “Sunday Best” star Bullock, who mesmerized fans with her jazzy interpretation of “For Every Mountain.”
“When you voted for me, you believed in the gift that God gave me,” said Bullock, whose debut album, “Thank You” is set for release next month. “They’ve coined me a gospel jazz singer, but I come from the church,” she said before launching into “How Great Thou Art.” Still, she couldn’t help but inject just a little jazz in the 1800s hymn.
Still, it was Franklin’s show, singing or not. Luckily, he mostly tries to stay away from singing — though he did make a couple of harmless attempts to belt out a few lyrics. But onstage, his strength is entertaining the crowd with his music directing, animated dancing, and inspirational personal testimonies, such as in his spoken word piece “Let it Go.”
From there, Franklin allowed his singers to “help their boy out,” with a “Melodies from Heaven” mix that sampled Zapp & Roger’’s “Do Wa Ditty.” For the next two hours, the Fox was a praise and worship session with popular hits such as “Brighter Day,” “Hosanna,” “Something About the Name Jesus,” and “Imagine Me,” which extended an empowering moment for fans to join Franklin in waving bye-bye to any painful luggage they’d been carrying.
But perhaps one of the most memorable moments was when Franklin called a woman named Jeanette to the stage. The Lithonia woman apparently had called local radio station V103 to complain about all the Kirk Franklin music they were playing. When Franklin heard about the call, he asked the station to locate the woman and give her tickets to Friday night’s show.
“I heard you called the station cause you didn’t like the songs God had gave me,” Franklin teased, before inviting Jeannette and her friends to come backstage after the show. “I’m gonna make you regret saying that,” he said. “I’m gonna get your cell phone number and call you every week to see what Kirk Franklin songs you’re listening to. ”
And just when it seemed that the night would end much like church does (Franklin had made the congregation, uh, fans, greet each other with hugs and “I love You’s” after all), the band plays “Stomp,” and well, church was over. With Franklin showing off dance moves from the ’80s, ’90s and the new millennium, the Fox now seemed more like a dance club than church.
Fortunately, Franklin ended Atlanta’s stop of the Fearless Tour with the encore “Smile,” which left fans with something that was a little in between.