Read an Excerpt
Silver & Gold
It was the first of November 1996, and there was a chill in the air. I had flown in from Kansas City that day for our concert in Memphis. By the time I drove from the airport to the auditorium downtown where the crew was setting up, most of the singers were already there. They had come in on the charter the night before. The musicians were onstage warming up, and there was a lot of activity and anticipation.
As usual, a catered meal was being served backstage before the show, so several people were standing around talking, joking, and eating when I arrived. I went around and spoke to everybody. I said hello to Fred Hammond and several of the band members and traded jokes with some of the younger performers traveling with us, then I grabbed a plate and sat down to eat with the Family.
There are a lot of gospel music fans in the Memphis area, and our promoter, Al Wash, who had flown in from Dallas that afternoon, told us the hall was already sold out. People were coming in for the concert by car and by bus from Arkansas, Mississippi, southwestern Tennessee, and all over the region. So we were happy and enthusiastic, and I was fired up and ready to go.
Sometime during the meal I said, "Something's going to happen to us tonightsomething that's going to change our lives forever." I don't actually remember saying those words, but several members of the Family told me later that I did. I believe now that, at that moment, the Lord must have been already showing me that something unusual and importantwas about to happen. He has shown me things like that before, and I trust His silent witness. But I didn't have any idea what that "something" was going to be that night.
Memphis was the third stop on our third road trip, the Tour of Life, and Yolanda Adams was the first artist in the lineup, to be followed by Fred Hammond and Radical for Christ. The usual routine was that I would come out with Fred and Yolanda at the beginning to get things rolling. As soon as Yolanda started her first number, I would leave and go back to my dressing room. Later I would come back on stage with all fifteen members of the Family, and we would do our show. Then, at the very end of the concert, everybody would join us for the big finale.
Things were hopping that night as I introduced Yolanda, handed off my microphone, and headed to the back. David Mann, a singer with the Family and one of my oldest friends, was standing nearby, and as I was leaving the stage I caught his eye and motioned for him to come with me. We needed to check on a few things, so David and I headed offstage together.
It was dark back there, and just as I was about to walk through the curtain, David looked back over his shoulder toward the audience. By the time he turned around again, I was gone. He couldn't figure out where I went, so he walked over to the curtain, pulled it back, and suddenly realized there was nothing there, nothing but a big, black holethe pit behind the stage. When he saw it, David told me later, his heart literally stopped.
He couldn't see anything in the pit, so David yelled for some of the guys to come over. None of them could see anything either. Finally, Jessie Hurst, our road manager who has been with me from the very first, noticed the worried look on their faces, hurried over, looked into the pit, and said, "Man, forget this!" And he just jumped down into the pitch-black darkness!
Nobody could see anything in the black hole until someone finally turned on the backstage lights. Then they saw me, lying in a heap on the floor of the pit. And they realized that Jessie had landed just a couple of feet from my head. Now, Jessie is a pretty big boy, and if he had hit me, it probably would have been all over right there. He could have killed me just by landing on me, but later Jessie said he couldn't afford to wait any longer. If I had fallen into that pit he knew I had to be hurt, and he wasn't about to wait around, wringing his hands, waiting to find out.
I was covered with blood, not exactly conscious but not exactly unconscious either. They said I kept repeating, "Speak, Lord! Give me a word! Speak to me, Lord!" I kept saying it over and over until the ambulance and paramedics arrived, hooked me up with intravenous fluids, loaded me onto a stretcher, and took off for the hospital.
The emergency room doctors at Regional Medical Center transferred me almost immediately to the intensive care unit, where I was on life support for a while. For the next three and a half hours, I'm told, I was in and out of consciousness. I didn't appear to have any broken bones, the doctors said, but there was bleeding inside my skull, and they were concerned that I might have additional, even more serious, internal injuries.
Doctors said they didn't think my condition was going to be fatal, but whenever there is a serious head injury, they always use life support in case the patient should stop breathing. So I had tubes and wires and hoses stuck all over my body.
I have no memories of any of that, and maybe that's good! There are some things I don't want to know. I'm just glad those doctors made all the right decisions that night. And I'm glad to know God was with me through it all.
I have no doubt that Jesus took my hand and walked me through the fire. The devil wanted to stop me, to break me, to kill me. But he was way out of his league: I was in God's hands from the start. And if there was ever any doubt about that, then all doubts were erased that night as God's people began to pray for me.
A WORD FROM ABOVE
When I fell, nobody onstage or in the audience knew for several minutes that anything unusual had happened. Except for David, Jessie, and several members of the backstage crew who had helped direct traffic and guide the paramedics to where I had fallen, no one knew I was hurt, and those who did know didn't have any idea how bad my injuries might be.
During all this time, Yolanda was still onstage singing, and thousands of people were rejoicing and enjoying her music. Suddenly Fred Hammond, who had come back several times to see what was happening to me, realized that the greatest Helper of all wasn't far away. He hurried back on stage and motioned to Yolanda that he needed to have a word with the people. Yolanda stopped singing, raised her hand for silence, and motioned for the band to stop playing. When Fred took the microphone and explained that I had just fallen off the stage and was on my way to the hospital, a sudden rush of surprise and alarm went through the crowd. Fred asked for quiet then said that he felt the Spirit of the Lord calling all the people in the auditorium to start praying for me; he asked that they pray for God's hand of healing and protection on my life.
Then, for the next several minutes, Fred led the audience in the most anointed prayer you can imagine. When Yolanda told me about it later, she said, "Kirk, God just touched our hearts at that moment, and as Fred started praying, the feeling was so strong, so overpowering, that all over the music hall people were praying and crying out to God to spare your life."
A spirit, of anointing seemed to come over the place, she said, and people began talking to the Lord, calling on the name of Jesus to pour out a blessing on me. The auditorium was filled with prayers and tears and anxious cries. I didn't know anything about any of that at the time, of course. But when they told me about it later, I thanked God that all those people had reached out in that way and prayed so fervently when I needed it the most. I have no doubt that God heard those prayers and used them to give me the strength to survive. What a wonderful act of mercy, and what an incredible testament to the power of faith.
Jon Drummond, my best friend and an outstanding athlete, was on the road with us during that particular trip. As soon as we got to the hospital, Jon realized that somebody was going to have to call my wife, Tammy, and let her know what had happened.
So Jon got to a phone and called her. He didn't want to scare her, however, because she was about fifteen weeks pregnant with our daughter Kennedy, so he really downplayed everything. He told Tammy that I had tripped onstage and hurt myself. He said they had taken me to the hospital just to check everything out.
Tammy was supposed to fly down to meet me in New Orleans the next day, but as gently as he could, Jon suggested, "Tammy, instead of waiting until tomorrow when we get to New Orleans, why don't you come on now. See if you can change your ticket and just come on to Memphis. I'm sure Kirk would like to see you now."
Over the next hour or so, Tammy and my manager, Gerald Wright, called the airline but could not get out until 6:00 the next morning. They flew in and came straight to the hospital to see how I was doing. Later, Tammy told me she wondered why people were trying to keep her away from any televisions or radios as they made their way to Memphis. She thought that was weird. But she really started to think something was strange when they got to the hospital and police officers and security guards were all over the place.
She noticed that, as soon as she came up to the hospital door, one of the officers held a walkie-talkie to his mouth and said, "We have Mrs. Franklin. She's here. We have her now." People were standing around, but Tammy said that when the officers took her inside, the crowd just parted, like the Red Sea. The hospital had also provided her with a nurse, and a chaplain was there, which frightened her. A chaplain was standard hospital procedure for trauma patients' families.
She thought that was really odd, and she wondered why people were staring at her as she and Gerald were going down the hall. But even with all that, she still didn't put two and two together. It wasn't until she saw the intensive care doors that she realized I was in ICU.
Then it hit her: My injuries were actually more serious than they had told her at first.
When it looked as if I wasn't getting any better, the doctors said they were going to drill a hole in my head to relieve the pressure that was building up as a result of the internal bleeding. They briefed Tammy on the procedure, and she authorized them to go ahead. But just as they were about to begin, I woke up! Everybody said it was a miracle, and it was clear that the hand of God had touched me.
I wasn't fully recovered, of course, not by any stretch of the imagination, but the doctors told Tammy they wouldn't have to go ahead with the procedure after all. I'm glad things took a positive turn at that momentnot only because of the risk of infections or other complications from that kind of surgery but also because it might have kept me off the stage for months, or even years.
The hospital was packed with friends and well-wishers for the first couple of days. My pastor, Bishop David Martin, flew in from Dallas and helped direct the flow of people around the waiting areas at the medical center. Jesse Jackson came to the hospital along with a local congressman from Tennessee, and former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson sent red roses to my hospital room.
Rhythm and blues star R. Kelly drove all the way from Chicago to see me. Shortly after Tammy and Gerald Wright arrived, the president of GospoCentric Records company, Vicki Lataillade, flew in from California with a couple of others.
Of course, I didn't know anything about those special visitors. I'm honored that so many people came to wish me well, but I was out cold most of the time, and whenever my eyes were open I wasn't really alert or coherent.
When the doctors finally got me stabilized, they made an assessment of my condition and called Tammy and her parents into one of the consulting rooms at the hospital. Gerald Wright and Vicki Lataillade were there too, along with one or two others, and they all sat quietly while the doctor gave them the prognosis.
He said I had fallen on the left side of my head, which is the side of the brain that controls all the creative functions. So there was a chance, he said, that I'd never be able to write music or perform again. There was also some concern that I'd never be able to think, write, or speak clearly, and he said I might have to go into physical therapy to learn how to talk all over again.
As you can imagine, everybody in the room was stunned by the doctor's words. They didn't know what to expect, but it sounded horrible. Then, finally, at one point the doctor said, "We managed to get a few words out of him today, but he stutters now."
Suddenly everyone who knew me started laughing. "He stuttered before!" they said.
"Oh, I see," the doctor said, a bit of relief showing on his face. I'm sure he must have been surprised by their reactions. But then he went on with the diagnosis. "Well," he said, "I also noticed that Mr. Franklin's voice is a little raspy."
This time my friends and family really started laughing: "Always was!" they said. "His voice has been raspy as long as we can remember!"