I Smile

Kirk Franklin, 2011

What images and messages are present in this song? What faith tradition do these images and messages draw upon?

What musical features of the song are typical of the gospel style? What features are not typically associated with gospel?

What do you think the purpose of this is?

Why do you think the song repeats the chorus so many times?

Like "People Get Ready," this song features a key change that brings the song up into a higher register. Compare and contrast the key changes in these pieces. What is their effect on you as a listener? What do they mean to you?

"I Smile" performed by Kirk Franklin on Hello Fear, © 2011. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

For more information about Kirk Franklin, visit his official website.

Rights have not been secured to reprint the words for this song. Please consult the following online resource for lyrics:


In the beginning of his autobiography, Church Boy, contemporary gospel artist Kirk Franklin describes his life growing up in Fort Worth, Texas. He says he lived a hard life, on the edge of poverty. After being abandoned by his parents when he was three, Franklin was raised by his great aunt, who looked after him, took him to church, and worked hard to offer him all the opportunities that she could. In 1974, at the age of four, he began taking piano lessons, and in that same year he saw a television special about Baptist minister and civil-rights-activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who had been assassinated six years earlier. He decided he wanted to be a preacher. By twelve years old, he was the music director at Mt. Rose Baptist Church in Fort Worth. As a teenager he was rebellious and left the church, but he returned later after the death of a friend.

In the 1990s, Franklin gained recognition with his first album, Kirk Franklin and the Family, recorded live at a church in Fort Worth with his seventeen-voice choir, The Family. His style of urban, contemporary gospel is a fusion of gospel and contemporary hip-hop, R&B, and pop. He is known for his efforts to bring the gospel genre into mainstream music so that it can be influential outside of the church. To this end, he has included popular artists, such as R. Kelly, Mary J. Blige, and Bono in his recordings. In 2013, Franklin started his own label called Fo Yo Soul Recordings. He is also the host and executive producer of a singing competition on Black Entertainment Television (BET), called Sunday Best.

Kirk Franklin

Franklin's song "I Smile" is from his eleventh album, Hello Fear, released in 2011. The dedication at the beginning of the song, spoken by Franklin, is not to a person, but rather to problems such as recession, depression, and unemployment. The song attacks these problems through inspirational lyrics that repeat phrases, such as "today is a new day," and words of encouragement that focus on the power of God's love, such as the idea that no matter what you are going through "God is working." The song features a catchy melody over repetitious piano chords and a driving beat, and a chorus of female voices that encourages listeners to sing along. Throughout the song, Franklin interjects spoken word, such as "now everyday ain't gonna be perfect" and "it ain't easy," resembling a preacher talking to a congregation. At the end of the song, Franklin gives a series of shout-outs, a public display of acknowledgment especially used in hip-hop, to various cities, such as Dallas, New Orleans, Cleveland, and Detroit.



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