By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
“Bold and powerful” could be adjectives to describe ties from Art Franklin’s debut men’s clothing line—the Art Franklin Collection. Those words also could be used to describe the man himself.
Franklin, an anchor with Birmingham’s WIAT-TV CBS 42 since 2016, launched his collection in late November through Treś’ Fine Clothing, owned by Treś Washington in the Cottons Building at 400 19th Street Ensley.
Given his love of music and sense of style, Franklin had local guitarist Eric Essix and saxophonist Marion Meadows perform during his Purple Carpet launch event. Franklin has long had a reputation in Birmingham for his fashion-forward ties, dating back to his days as an anchor at WBRC-TV Fox 6 in the 1990s.
“People would always compliment me for my ties, and I even have given them away sometimes,” Franklin said. “When people say, ‘I really like that,’ that means I’ve got to take it off and give it to them.”
As a television personality, Franklin “dresses for a living,” he said, but he also is aware a person’s attire can speak volumes.
“I’ve always believed that fashion kind of makes a statement about who you are. People notice you when you walk in a room when you dress well. They also notice when you don’t dress well,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important.”
A Local Need
Franklin, 62, got the idea to develop his own clothing line following a visit to Washington’s shop after a meeting in Ensley. He was about to take some suits to his usual tailor when he was told that there was one nearby.
“I said, ‘Here? In Ensley?’ They said, ‘Yeah, there’s a tailor right around the corner.’ So, I stepped into the shop, and it was more than just a tailor shop,” Franklin recalled. “It was actually a men’s clothing store with a tailor inside. … We talked, I left my clothes to be tailored—and I walked out of there with three suits.”
Franklin had plans to put together a clothing line before the day he walked into Washington’s store.
“I think when God is in the mix, things happen the way they’re supposed to happen, when they’re supposed to happen, how they’re supposed to happen,” Franklin said. “I think that’s what it was on that particular day. … Everything just fell into place.”
Having served the historic neighborhood for about two years in the mid-1990s, when he patrolled Ensley High School under the late Principal Charles Warren, Franklin believes the area is a “natural fit” for his clothing line.
“[Warren] said, ‘I want you to patrol the halls,’ said Franklin. “[He knew] I could say things to kids like, “Pull up your pants,’ and they’d say, ‘OK, Mr. Franklin,’ and it wouldn’t be a big deal. … If a teacher had said that the [students] might have gotten a little snarky with them.”
“I shop online and in stores, but I don’t get to shop [in Birmingham],” Franklin said. “That’s why I think it’s going to be important to have a place here in Birmingham that will fit those seeking the style I’m looking for … at an affordable price.”
Road to Birmingham
Franklin grew up alongside four sisters and two brothers “right on the cusp of the city” in eastern Detroit, Michigan, where his stepfather worked for Chrysler Corp.
Franklin’s first job, fresh after finishing up at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, was at WDZZ-FM, a radio station in Flint, Michigan, where he wanted to do news but started as a radio announcer.
He did a sports roundup show where he covered events like the Buick Open golf tournament in Flint, as well as games played by the former United States Football League (USFL) Michigan Panthers and National Football League (NFL) teams.
In addition to covering sports and working as an announcer, Franklin got the opportunity to cover news at WDZZ during the mornings. His first story was on people dealing with homelessness. After that, he started sending tapes out because he wanted to be on television.
He first sent a video audition tape to Fred Ertz, then the news director for Michigan’s WNEM-TV. Ertz passed that recording to Ross Woodstock, head of WILX-TV in Lansing, Michigan.
“I had forgotten about [sending out my audition tape], … then three months later I got a call out the blue,” Franklin recalled. “[Woodstock] said, ‘Hey, Fred Ertz gave me your tape. I like what I see and would like to talk to you about a reporter’s position.’ That’s how I got in the door.”
Franklin started at WLIX as general assignment television reporter, moved up to business reporter, and then became the station’s Michigan capitol reporter. During his time covering business and the state capitol, Franklin was also a weekend anchor.
From there, he built an impressive resume, including a position for a local NBC affiliate in Norfolk, Virginia, where he served as the military affairs correspondent and traveled internationally to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, and Europe.
“I covered the Persian Gulf War, I covered [medical] deployments, I flew with the [U.S. Navy] Blue Angels, and I did solid shield [military] exercises on the North Carolina coast. I also went to Parris Island, [South Carolina, to do a piece] on the making of the U.S. Marine Corps,” Franklin said. “I mean, I did a lot. I really grew up as a reporter [during those five years], but it was time to get back to the anchor desk.”
Franklin’s agent pushed him toward an anchor job in Birmingham, but he wasn’t interested at first.
“What I thought of Birmingham was not a very good image,” Franklin said. “I thought about the Civil Rights images, the dogs and the hoses, and Alabama being this rural place.”
After getting an extra push from his then-roommate, Franklin visited Birmingham and “fell in love with the place,” he said.
In the Magic City, Franklin got involved with civic activities, participating in then-Mayor Richard Arrington Jr.’s Youth Commission program and tutoring at Fairfield High School. He even started U-Turn, an anti-gang program, and set up a scholarship of his own.
“I know I got to where I was because somebody helped me,” Franklin said. “I just thought it was incumbent upon me, as a person that somebody looked to on television, … [as a person] who had achieved to some level, to give back to this community.”
Outside of fashion and journalism, Franklin loves cooking and music. In fact, when he lived in Atlanta, Georgia, between 2003 and 2016, Franklin won two cooking competitions: Real Men Cook and Gourmet Gents.
“My wife says I cook better than she does. I think that’s just her way of trying to get me to cook more,” Franklin laughed. “She has some things she can outdo me on. Her mac-and-cheese is far better than mine, but I’ve got her on everything else.”
Franklin’s first cooking inspiration came from his mother, who he would watch prepare food whenever he came home from school. After leaving home for college, he had a lot of cooking questions for his mom.
Franklin said, “You go away to school, and you’re like, ‘What did you season your greens with? How did you make your cornbread? What do you put in your beans to give them flavor? How did you do banana pudding?’”
Now, he loves to cook because it allows him to “create something for someone else to enjoy.”
“There’s nothing greater than coming to the table to have conversation, good food, a glass of wine or whatever your beverage choice is,” Franklin said. “It’s just a good time to really learn about people and share life with [them].”
Franklin also used to DJ, a skill he still practices today. “I’ve got turntables at home, where I do some beat-by-beat mixes from time to time, and people are surprised,” he said. “They ask, ‘You can mix?’ Yes, I can mix. They think [I’m] the old guy. My wife says, ‘He is not old. He still has a lot of youthfulness to him.’”
Franklin even ran a record label, 285 Entertainment, during his time in Atlanta. He also used to manage popular Birmingham performer Logan the Entertainer.
His greatest passion, however, may be “tennis, tennis, tennis,” said Franklin, who is a member of the James Lewis Tennis Center in Ensley and the Brook Highland Racquet Club, as well as a member of the board for Highland Park Tennis Center. He used to play in the Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association, as well.
Though he has an intense passion for the game, Franklin didn’t pick up on it until he was 39. Soon after he started playing, he would train once a week for eight hours.
“I trained from 8 [a.m.] to [noon], would break for lunch from [noon] to 2 [p.m.], … then I was back at it from 2 to 6 [p.m.],” Franklin said. “I’m pretty disciplined and dedicated about things I want to learn, and I will take the steps required in order to perfect it.”
Two of a Kind
In 1999, Franklin met the woman he would later marry: Michele. He credits her with a lot of his success. In 2014, he and Michele married and moved to California, where he had a public relations firm and his wife worked for a pharmaceutical company. Franklin said they are two of a kind.
“God said, ‘You two belong together, and we just have to make sure Art is in a better place so he can be the type of husband that will be great for [Michele] because she deserves greatness,’ because she’s such a great woman,” Franklin said.
The couple returned to Birmingham in 2016, after CBS 42 News Director Rob Martin gave Franklin a call. “[The station] created ‘CBS 42 Morning News with Art Franklin,’ and I couldn’t think of another local station that had a show with the anchor’s name on it,” said Franklin. “They made it clear that I was a central piece of what they were working with and that they really wanted me to come back, so I [returned to Birmingham].”
Franklin no longer anchors the morning news but instead does the 4, 5, 6, and 10 p.m. news with co-anchor Sherri Jackson, something different for Franklin since he no longer has to go to bed at 7 p.m.
Given his long career, Franklin said “impact” is what keeps him going, whether on television or with his clothing line.
“God’s not finished with me yet,” Franklin said. “You may have heard that phrase, and I believe that. There’s still more to do, and part of that is what I’m doing now by launching this [clothing] collection because God’s still working—and He’s like, ‘We’ve got a long way to go here.’”
The Art Franklin Collection is available at Treś’ Fine Clothing in the Cottons Building in downtown Ensley, 400 19th St Ensley, Birmingham, AL 35218. Phone: (205) 200-4149