Gospel music will shake the foothills Saturday, when the second installment of the Northern California Gospel Music Festival takes place at Combie Bible Church, 22924 W. Hacienda Drive, off Combie Road in Lake of the Pines. The day-long event will feature the music of Paige Anderson and the Fearless Kin, The Gospel Motivators, The Aaron Gayden Band. The Sons of Salvation, The Glory Seekers and Priesthood Nation, which has the head-lining last slot, performing from 4:45-5:45 p.m. Priesthood Nation, which is managed by Deacon James Battle Jr., is composed of Elder Ronald Rosson, Bishop L.E. Franklin, Reverend Kenneth Hughes, Minister Dawaun King and Lamont Jackson. They recently completed a new CD of work called the “The Word,” which they have been bringing to audiences since March 2011. Lead vocalist and songwriter Franklin spoke with me this week about the upcoming festival and the rich body of work he has been part of since first beginning to sing as a young boy.
TK: Please tell me about your association with Priesthood Nation.
BF: Priesthood Nation was born in March of 2011. I became involved with the group when the musical director, Elder Ronald Rosson, saw me singing at another event and asked if I would come over and join the group that he had at that time called the King of Travelers. That was the beginning for me joining the group and about a year later, we changed the name to Priesthood Nation.
TK: Talk about your background in music, I understand that you’ve been involved in a variety of projects through the years.
BF: Like many artists, my musical background started when I was about 5 or 6 years old and began singing with my family. When I was about 12 years old, I began to sing in a youth choir. From there I led my first song called “Deep Down In My Soul,” and after that I began to do radio and television broadcasts with the church and began to travel with the crusades all over the United States … In high school (Emeryville) I teamed up with some members of the marching band, to form a funk band. We played all the top 40 songs of that time. But even though I did secular music, gospel was always my first choice. When I was 16, my family moved from Emeryville to Venice, Calif. I hooked up with some other fellows there and we started a group called Unique Pleasure. I penned my first song with that group and we won a battle of the bands and became the neighborhood favorite. My father was pastoring a church in Venice and I began singing solos there and that’s when I realized gospel music was what I wanted to do.
TK: Before we talk about Priesthood Nation, share some of the highlights of your work in secular music.
BF: My first professional experience was with the late Billy Preston. He became my mentor, taking us around to Motown and introducing us to other secular artists. Jumping ahead, in the early 90s, I met a gentlemen by the name of Richard Penniman.
TK: Little Richard?
BF: Yes, I met him in Hollywood at the Hyatt Hotel when my group at that time was playing a party upstairs. He kept calling me over to him and I didn’t even know who he was to tell the truth. He said “I’m Little Richard,” and I said “OK.” He said “I like your band, you have a real good style,” and he asked me if I had ever recorded before… Later he called me while I was in the studio working on my own project and asked if I would come over and record with him and that was the beginning of our friendship… From there I began touring with him.
TK: How long were you a part of his band?
BF: I toured with him for 15 years through 48 different countries. We also did the “Legendary Tour” with Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. We played with other greats like Bo Diddley, BB King, “Gatemouth” Brown, Aretha Franklin and Solomon Burke.
TK: During that time, did you still feel a pull towards gospel music or was it on a backburner for you?
BF: I never put gospel music on a backburner, because deep down within myself God lives within me… I was very disciplined and knew why I was there and that was to work and take care of my family. One day we were in Nice, France, and I was up in my room, reading my word of God and I began to preach to myself and as the spirit of the Lord was moving within me, it told me it was “time to come out,” that he was going to allow me to go back where I had first began. Sometime around 2000, I came back home and began to work with my father in the church. He ordained me as a minister and I began to work with the youth.
TK: Based on what I’ve heard and read about Little Richard, it would seem that going from working with him to becoming an ordained minister could be considered a huge leap.
BF: It may seem that way, but I caught Little Richard at the right time of his life, I believe. When I met him, he had become a devout Seventh Day Adventist. He wasn’t drinking, he wasn’t smoking, he was a vegetarian and living a clean life. He wasn’t that wild man that everyone knew him as in the beginning of his career… I remember times when we literally had bible studies and services in his limo. He is a very anointed and gifted man.
TK: I don’t mean to digress, because I really do want to talk to you about Priesthood Nation and the concert you’ll be a part of this weekend here in Grass Valley.
BF: One of the things that I really love about Priesthood Nation is that we have four ministers in the group and I’ve never been in group like that… What makes us different from many of the quartet groups is that we are able to adapt. We can do contemporary gospel, we can do quartet (music), traditional gospel. I love that we can become part of our environment and part of the vibe of the people… We all have a great chemistry together and a true love for God’s people and God’s word.
TK: You’ve already touched on this a little bit, but anyone who is performing music professionally obviously wants each song to sound great and is concerned with that, but in gospel there’s a whole other element as well, you’re trying to share your version of the good news.
BF: Yes, we have great stories. One of our songs is called “He Died,” and talks about the cross and how Jesus died for our sins… The content of our songs keeps us grounded and in the gospel… Priesthood Nation has a global footprint and we want to share with people a true experience of who God really is through music.
For more information about the Northern California Gospel Music Festival go to: www.ncgospelmusicfestival.wordpress.com or call event promoter Andy Gonzales at 530-802-1668.