Kirk Franklin Puts Dynamic Stamp On House of Blues' Gospel Brunch

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Even talking to Kirk Franklin makes you want to straighten up and fly right, not to mention feel a little lazy. The 43-year-old Fort Worth native is arguably the most decorated gospel performer of his generation, winner of close to 100 music awards across a wide variety of platforms: Grammys (nine), Stellar (39), Dove (16), NAACP Image (eight), and so forth. He's even won a Soul Train Award.

Furthermore, Franklin's singing competition Sunday Best is going into sixth season, he co-hosts Game Show Network's current No. 1 show, American Bible Challenge (with "You Might Be a Redneck If..." comedian Jeff Foxworthy). Oh, he's also a New York Times bestselling author for The Blueprint: A Plan for Living Above Life's Storms and has just signed a Houston family group called the Walls ("two brothers, two sisters") for his joint venture with RCA Records. Franklin, of course, is hard-pressed to take credit for any of it.

"Everytime you've gotta talk about yourself, it sounds so vain," he says.

Calling from L.A., Franklin would much rather talk about the makeover he is helping House of Blues' long-running gospel brunch series. For about a year, he and megapromoter Live Nation, which owns the chain of restaurant/music-venues, have been working on applying Franklin's dynamic style to what can be a rather staid occasion. The revamped version debuts this Sunday, which just happens to be Mother's Day. (Hope you remembered.)

"It just felt very natural and organic, and here we are a year later," he says.

Franklin says his role has been working with HOB representatives in each market, keeping a close eye on both the musical offerings and video presentations -- "we've got a lot of nice video content" -- as well as the food. The revised menu features delectables such as Southwest Scrambled Eggs, Creole Chicken Jambalaya and chicken and waffles, plus plenty of desserts and a Bloody Mary bar. The experience he wants, Franklin says, is for brunchgoers "to feel like they're getting something they've become used to from a Kirk Franklin event, so we really worked hard with that."

Sounds delicious. Is Franklin a believer that a good meal -- a gospel brunch, say -- can also nurture a body's spiritual well-being?

"Well, I don't know that it's so connected to their spiritual well-being," he laughs. "I just think it's a good experience to be able to connect with this whole culture of gospel music and the church, and some good singing and good food -- just the whole African-American gospel-music heritage, and allowing other people to see that."

Franklin will not be at Sunday's Houston brunch (which has seatings at noon and 2:30 p.m.), but says he plans to visit one here when he can. It may be a little while, though -- besides Houston, the program is debuting in ten other House of Blues venues across the nation, from Orlando to Anaheim. Leona Daniels, an ordained minister and member of the St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church in Humble as well as founder of Free Ministries Outreach International, is the afternoon's headliner.

Franklin says even nonchurchgoing folk are welcome at the brunches, and will walk away with much more than just a full stomach.

"We want everybody to come and really feel like this is something special for them, and that they can kind of wash away all the blues and the negative feelings of the week," he affirms. "Here's a chance to be uplifted and reminded that tough times don't last long, but tough people do. That's the power of this music, and that's the power of the whole culture that we are trying to replicate."

They won't even be made to feel "preached at," Franklin promises.

"The gospel brunch is a full-out music concert/celebration experience," he says. "It's not so much the sermon and someone preaching. This is about good food, good singing and just about lifting up your soul."

See HOB Houston's Web site for more information on Sunday's gospel bunch.

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