Originally created 04/03/00

Couple works to promote art, convey message



Piercing through a comfortable silence, Alvin Franklin's voice reaches a voluminous vibrato then releases a deluge of sorrow over the small gallery audience.

After he delivers only a few lines of the spiritual, Soon I Will Be Done, the woman he calls his soul mate interrupts his singing with a prayer.

With a poignant expression that seems to add centuries to her 56-year-old face, Barbara acts as the resigned slave grandmother who comes to the Lord "praying for her younguns."

Invading the comfort zones of their audience in local churches and schools, the husband and wife team rejuvenates traditional themes like slavery, Africa and romance.

"Going back, I can reflect on what is still left to do," Mrs. Franklin said.

Performed a capella or with musical accompaniment, the couple's artistic vocals -- his singing and her theatrics -- are intended to communicate many things, Mrs. Franklin said.

"I think that we want to communicate a universal perspective of life ... that we are all in this together," she said. "I think that we are also projecting the love that is between us and that love is very much alive."

Sitting in the showing room of Studio Art Gro on Broad Street -- which the Franklins opened in August -- Mrs. Franklin twisted purple ribbon and arranged African violets, decorations for the upcoming ceremony that will renew their wedding vows after 11 years of marriage.

The two met at Wayne College in Detroit, and after graduating they came to Augusta 10 years ago, opening a small cafe called Sandwich Delight on Georgia Highway 56, specializing in corned beef sandwiches. From there the couple moved on to business that fulfilled patrons in longer-lasting ways, they said. Mrs. Franklin was commissioned in 1995 by artist and sculptor Norman A. Hughes studio to write the Praying Slave dramatic monologue to accompany a painting with a similar theme. Also a licensed practical nurse, Mrs. Franklin has written a repertoire of poems and stories that she said she would like to have her husbandsing.

"One day I was rehearsing and Alvin just started singing," she said.

A 45-year-old tenor, Mr. Franklin has studied music with Paine College choral directors and with Augusta Chorale director Ellis Johnson.

He received the Medal of Performing Excellence after performing with the U.S. 434th Army band, with whom he recorded the CD In Praise of Freedom. The Voices of Franklin, a touring group of local singers that he organized three years ago, recorded their first gospel CD, titled Come Unto Me, in 1993.

The union of the Franklins' talents has taken them before audiences in South Carolina and Augusta. A 1999 lyceum series at Paine College, performances at Augusta State University and at churches including Second Providence and historic Springfield Baptist are added to scheduled performances at the downtown gallery.

Paine College executive assistant Roscoe Williams has invited the Franklins to perform in post-secondary institutions in the area several times over the years.

"I saw them perform. ... They were fantastic for a couple of reasons," Mr. Williams said. "They were very talented, but I thought that it was really something to see a husband and wife team working together with the same vision.

"I wanted people to hear the best-kept secret around," Mr. Williams said. "It was more than exposure of an act ... they had something to say."

A gospel talk show is broadcast from Studio Art Gro at 9 a.m. each Monday on Comcast Cable Channel 21. The couple started the show in November 1999 to "show what Studio Art Gro is about and bring the anointing through the TV," Mr. Franklin said. Invited guests from the community discuss topics including teen pregnancy, drug addiction and religion.

Xavier O. Jones -- co-owner of Studio Art Gro, said one of the reasons he joined the Franklins was that he found the couple inspiring.

"They were the first really solid tidbit that I had that gave me direction," Mr. Jones said. "At that point I was kind of just milling around trying to figure out what to do with my art."

Mr. Jones, formerly the artistic director for Augusta Focus newspaper and an instructor with the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art, is a visual artist. His paintings showing African American subjects and illustrating social issues are a standing display in the studio. Mr. Jones was commissioned in 1997 by state Sen. Charles Walker to create the African-American Crest, which is now the emblem of the Augusta Heritage Society. "We have the same vision," he said of his relationship with the Franklins. "We want this to grow as an expansive art center. We work cohesively very well together. Our mind-set on history (and) our mind-set on trying to grow as a business are equally the same."

The Franklins are entertainers who take on image responsibilities of role models, Mr. Williams said.

"I tell you, at some point they are going to make a quantum movement in the entertainment world."

Reach Clarissa J. Walker at (706) 828-3851.