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Show Business or Classroom? Singer Cassie Franklin Preparing for Both

Cassie Franklin

By Sherry Kughn
JSU News Bureau

April 12, 2004 --
Singer Cassandra "Cassie" Franklin is almost certain a big decision is in her future -- either to teach school or to sing professionally.  

Franklin sang for the soundtrack of the civil war movie, Cold Mountain ( Based on one of the most acclaimed novels in recent memory, "Cold Mountain" sets off on a true American odyssey through a time that saw some of the greatest ferocity -- and heroism -- the nation has ever known. Fearing for the safety of his beloved Ada, a wounded Confederate soldier, Inman, makes his way across the war-ravaged South, back to her farm on Cold Mountain. He faces trials and tribulations as he encounters slaves and bounty hunters, soldiers and witches, unexpected friends and dangerous enemies at every turn.
Following her success with Cold Mountain, Franklin wants to be prepared for either career -- singing or teaching. The twenty-one-year-old is pursuing a teaching degree in the social sciences at Jacksonville State University. She hopes to graduate next year and teach history, possibly in a school similar to Sumiton Christian School, where she attended while growing up in Sumiton, near Birmingham. She now commutes 140 miles round trip daily to JSU from Henagar, which is near Fort Payne.

Franklin's singing is in the tradition of the five family generations before her as part of a group of sacred harp singers scattered throughout the nation and in England. She is under contract with Sony Music, too, for the song, Lady
, and must travel when they tell her to. Singing under contract is a career she had never before considered, but it is one that has opened doors for her. 

A few years ago, a musician and fan of sacred harp music, Tim Eriksen, began traveling to Henagar to attend the singings there and wherever else they were held.  He loved the rare beauty and simplicity of the a cappella music, which Franklin and other members sing with the names of the notes, such as "fa-so-la" before they repeat the song with its words. 

Eriksen later learned of the Cold Mountain movie project, and he remembered the sacred harp singings, especially those at the Liberty Church in Henagar. He recommended to music producer T-Bone Burnette that the soundtrack for the movie be recorded at the Church.
Arrangements were made, and during the summer of 2002 the recordings took place. Franklin, who was a part of that recording, was a student at Beville State Community College in Sumiton. After the recording, she continued in school until she graduated in December with an associate degree in liberal arts. She then went to work in sales in Birmingham and kept up with her travels to sacred harp singings.

Franklin started classes at JSU in August of 2003, only a month before Eriksen called to say he needed a soloist for the Cold Mountain soundtrack. He wanted her to come to Nashville to record. She first talked it over with her JSU professors, then made the trip. Franklin so impressed the music producers that they invited her back for a second recording session. Her solo appears on the soundtrack, as well as the other songs for which she sings backup.

"My professors were helpful in arranging the makeup work," said Franklin. "I appreciated it."

Before the semester ended, Franklin and some of the other sacred harp singers were called to Hollywood to perform for an A&E television special at the first part of December to promote the premier of Cold Mountain. Again, she missed a few classes but made up the work, except for one missed final, which she plans to make up soon.

In January of 2004, Franklin developed a sinus infection and bronchitis. She was determined to finish school, though, so she enrolled in the spring semester. A fluke happened. Sony called her in March, about the time her voice was healing, and asked her and the other singers to perform at the Oscars. It was a lifetime opportunity, one that any singer would be proud of.

"I was excited," said Franklin, "although we all took it in stride." The group flew to Los Angeles at the end of February and stayed until the beginning of March.

Franklin has missed few classes since. Her agents at Sony Records know that she wants to finish school. She has a few other engagements soon, such as a trip to Fort Worth for Sony for another Cold Mountain music tour, and then a trip to Chicago for a sacred harp convention. She plans to skip May term but plans to return to JSU in June and July for Summer I and II.

Thanks to the soundtrack, Franklin has another music project. Folk musician Martyn Wyndham Read of England heard her and wants to record her singing folk songs from England and America. Still, Franklin doesn't appear overwhelmed by all that's happened to her.

"These experiences haven't changed me," she said. "I'm still the same person. My goals are still the same goals."

Franklin describes herself as "laid back." Her looks confirm her description. She recently appeared for an interview in jeans, a tee-shirt, and her hair held back with sunglasses. One difference between her and most students that day: she had a fiddle in a canvas bag slung over her shoulder. She couldn't leave it in the car, she said, because it might get hot -- not good for any stringed instrument.

Franklin is eager to finish her degree and spend more time with the man she is dating, Billy Vines of Sumiton. He has two sons, both of whom are learning sacred harp music. "I'm teaching it to Billy, too," Franklin said.

In the meantime, Franklin attends class, studies, and takes advantage of whatever singing she can do.

 "There might come a time when I have to decide between teaching and singing," said Franklin. "In that case, I'd choose singing."

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