A native of Fort Worth, Texas, Franklin was raised by his great aunt Gertrude, having been abandoned as a baby by his mother. Gertrude collected and resold aluminum cans to raise money for Kirk to take piano lessons from the age of 4. Kirk excelled in music, able to read and write music by ear. He received his first contract offer at the age of 7, which his aunt turned down. He joined the church choir and became music director of the Mt. Rose Baptist Church adult choir, at the age of eleven. Despite his strict religious upbringing, Franklin rebelled in his teenage years, and in an attempt to keep him out of trouble, his great aunt arranged an audition for him at a professional youth conservatory associated with a local university. He was accepted and while his life seemed to be on track for a while, the announcement of a girlfriend’s pregnancy and his eventual expulsion from school for behavioral problems proved otherwise.
After the shooting death of a friend, Franklin returned to the church, where he began to direct the choir once again. He also co-founded a gospel group, The Humble Hearts, which recorded one of Franklin’s compositions and got the attention of gospel music legend Milton Biggham. Impressed, Bigham enlisted him to lead the DFW Mass Choir in a recording of Franklin’s song “Every Day with Jesus.” This led to Bigham hiring Franklin (at just twenty years old) to lead the choir at the 1990 Gospel Music Workshop of America Convention, a major industry gathering.