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Randall Franks is an American film and television actor, author, and a bluegrass singer and musician who plays fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and mountain dulcimer. He was inducted into the Independent Country Music Hall of Fame in 2013; recognized by the International Bluegrass Music Museum in 2010 as a Bluegrass Legend; inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame in 2004; and was designated the "Appalachian Ambassador of the Fiddle".
Franks came to television as a youth performing on variety shows as a musician and singer. Franks began his movie career in 1988 with a singing role in the movie Desperate For Love appearing with Christian Slater, Brian Bloom and Tammy Lauren. Like many actors his early appearances were in bit roles such as a sports reporter in "Blind Side" in 1988 and as a wealthy wrestling enthusiast in Hulk Hogan's "No Holds Barred" before landing his break through role on network television on "In the Heat of the Night."
Best known as:
Franks hosted and directed the PBS documentary Still Ramblin' highlighting the life of Georgia singing cowboy and early Grand Ole Opry star Ramblin' "Doc" Tommy Scott. He served as an Appalachian musician consultant for the 2012 feature Lawless. Franks shares memories, musical performances, visits to movie sets and premieres from his career on his YouTube channel - Randall Franks TV. He appeared on numerous shows as a musical artist, some among them are: the Country Kids TV Series, Tonight at Ferlinghetti's (PBS 1985-87), Nashville Now, Crook and Chase, Miller & Company, Reno's Old Time Music Festival, and HGTV's Extreme Homes.
Franks 2012 book, A Mountain Pearl: Appalachian Reminiscing and Recipes was inspired by the stories of his late mother Pearl Franks.
Among his other books are Stirring Up Additional Success with a Southern Flavor and Stirring Up Success with a Southern Flavor, both co-authored with Shirley Smith, executive director for the Catoosa County Learning Center. The cookbooks incorporated celebrities, center stories and Catoosa County history and photos to assist with the fundraising project for the center. The initial book yielded the program over $27,000 in 2004. Smith and Franks partnered again in 2009 for the sequel with even more celebrities joining in to raise more funds for the Catoosa County Learning Center.
With the 2007 release of Snake Oil, Superstars, and Me, the autobiography of Ramblin' "Doc" Tommy Scott, Franks joined Scott and fellow co-author Shirley Noe Swiesz in completing the 700-page project highlighting Scott's 90 years on the stage, film, and television.
As of 2012[update], Franks is working on three other books, one featuring stories of his experiences in entertainment, a novel, and another co-authoring of an autobiography of Silver Dollar City personality Violet Hensley, the whittlin' fiddler of Yellville, Arkansas.
Franks began an interest in writing while still in high school. He began writing entertainment articles for various publications such as Bluegrass Unlimited, the SEBA Breakdown, Precious Memories magazine, and others.
He focused on another career in mainstream journalism from 2001-2009 in association with News Publishing Co. He developed a syndicated slice of life and entertainment column called Southern Style which is used in publications from North Carolina to Louisiana. Many readers equate his folksy style to that of the late columnist Lewis Grizzard. He currently writes for various magazines.
In his first year of journalism, the Georgia Press Association awarded him a First Place Feature Photo award for a unique photo of the Bluegrass group The White Oak Mountain Boys. His writing has yielded 21 Georgia Press and one National Press Association awards; one among those is W. Trox Bankston Award. He has helped garner two W. G. Sutlive trophies for community service and assisted The Catoosa County News in achieving the General Excellence award in 2003, 2004 and 2005 and a National Press Association award for Local News coverage.
His love of writing blossomed into script writing under the tutorage of Carroll O'Connor during his time on In the Heat of the Night, which yielded him the unique opportunity to co-write the screenplay for the No. 1 Country song "Wolverton Mountain" with Merle Kilgore.
As a child, Franks was exposed to the rich heritage of Georgia fiddlin' at family reunions. Franks' desire to learn was sparked at the age of eight when he heard the "Orange Blossom Special" by Ervin Rouse. He was inspired to study both classically with Donald Grisier, Ph.D. and at the feet of some of Georgia's fiddle legends such as the Skillet Licker Gordon Tanner, WSB Barndance host Cotton Carrier, Dallas Burrell, and Anita Sorrells Mathis.
While still in school, Franks formed the children's bluegrass band The Peachtree Pickers. It was through this act that he gained attention from national acts and television becoming a regular on the Country Kids TV Series and appearing for the Grand Ole Opry. The group released five albums.
To support the group's efforts Franks started a Randall "Randy" Franks Peachtree Picker Fan Club, coordinated by Pearl Bruce. The club grew to include around 8,000 fans by 1986 rivaling and exceeding those of top country stars of the period. Franks created The Pickin' Post newsletter to keep the large group of fans informed sharing info on his career as well as Southern bluegrass festivals and other groups. The club also launched The Singing Post for fans exclusively interested in gospel music. The club grew even more dramatically during Franks' success on television.
The influence of the Georgia Fiddle Bands is apparent within Franks's style and recordings. He was exposed to the work of Fiddlin' John Carson, The Skillet Lickers and other Georgia fiddlers. He grew and gained skills by competing in Georgia fiddle contests, many fostered by World Record Mandolinist Bill Lowery as well as the Grand Ole Opry's Grand Master Fiddler Championship. In the 1990s Georgia honored Franks for his work to preserve the heritage of Georgia's fiddling by naming a state-sponsored fiddle contest in his honor hosted then at Lake Lanier Islands. The Randall Franks Trophy is presented to the winner each year at the 1890s Day Jamboree Old Time Fiddler's Convention in Ringgold, Georgia. Franks also co-hosts America's Grand Master Fiddler Championship annually in Nashville at the Country Music Hall of Fame.
In the 1980s, the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe took a special interest in the young band and especially the young fiddler. Monroe spent hours teaching and sharing with Franks much like Monroe's Uncle Pen had done for him. With the departure of Kenny Baker, Franks was asked to join the Blue Grass Boys. Still in school, he took off to tour from coast to coast. Though school beckoned him back, Franks continued to make appearances with Monroe up until he stopped touring. For his contributions to the work of Bill Monroe, Franks was honored by the state of Kentucky. Randall has joined other members of the Blue Grass Boys in special performances beginning in 2007.
Franks founded the SouthEastern Bluegrass Association (SEBA) in 1984 to preserve, promote and publicize Bluegrass Music. Through the organization which has grown to one of the country's largest he supported the creation of the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA).
Franks saw a bluegrass void in some areas in his home state of Georgia so in the mid-1980s he began promoting bluegrass concerts using regional talent in communities that did not have bluegrass events nearby to increase the visibility of the field outside bluegrass festivals. He carried this endeavor one step farther during his off time from In the Heat of the Night when he began the Share with D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) concert series held in communities in several states featuring acts including Jim and Jesse, The Lewis Family, the Osborne Brothers, himself and others. The shows showcased bluegrass stars while raising awareness and funds for a program to help keep children off drugs.
Franks was also tapped by Folk Music's Doodle and the Golden River Grass to fill the fiddle role in the internationally recognized performer. He joined the group beginning in 1985 carrying on the Georgia Fiddle Band tradition. He recorded several albums with the band.
Multi-award–winning gospel quartet, the Marksmen Quartet of Murrayville, Ga, also added Franks to its musical ensemble in 1984. Franks admired the group for their vocal artistry and performed intermittently with the group into the early 1990s. He recorded several albums with the quartet.
Franks became the first fiddler for the Grammy nominated duo Jeff & Sheri Easter when they began their career touring to promote their debut album - New Tradition. Franks appeared live and on television with the group.
After the members of the Peachtree Pickers embarked on different journeys in college, Franks decided to focus on creating music as a solo artist and studying acting. He juggled his own performances between guest appearances with various acts and acting opportunities. Making his first guest star appearance for the Grand Ole Opry in 1983, he continued appearing for the mother church of country music through the late 1990s.
In 1989, Franks released Golden River Fiddlin' to the Folk and Bluegrass markets. SPBGMA, the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America, said Franks had a "special touch on the fiddle" while Bluegrass Unlimited called him "hard driving…straightahead…solid…sure” like Tommy Jackson and Paul Warren.
Franks began the 1990s as he crossed over to the Southern Gospel market being the first bluegrass performer to take his solo music project Handshakes and Smiles to the Top 20 Sales Charts. Singing News gave it Four Stars. He directed a music video of "Handshakes and Smiles" for the project which was nominated for a Telly Award and ran on country and gospel cable channels as well as NBC and CBS stations. Alan Autry, David Hart, Pop Lewis, Jesse McReynolds, Travis Lewis, Mark Wheeler and Lewis Phillips were among those making a special appearance.
Franks formed his Hollywood Hillbilly Jamboree in the early 1990s, bringing his unique style of bluegrass into fairs, festivals and communities not normally including bluegrass in their annual celebrations. His show packages included a variety of stars, one of those casts were Donna Douglas (Elly Mae Clampett of The Beverly Hillbillies), Sonny Shroyer (Enos from The Dukes of Hazzard), and himself. Another television commercials package featured Dan Biggers (Doc Robb from In the Heat of the Night). Other musical acts that appeared with his show include David Davis and the Warrior River Boys, Gary Waldrep, Ryan Robertson, Barney Miller, James Watson, Danny Bell, Bill Everett, Gilbert Hancock, Sue and Kim Koskela, Roger Hammett, The Sand Mountain Boys, The Dowden Sisters, and others. At one South Carolina event over 30,000 people came out to see the show and his show was the only featured attraction.
Both his Sacred Sounds of Appalachia (1992) and his Tunes and Tales from Tunnel Hill (1995) were among the top thirty bluegrass recordings of the year. His "Let's Live Everyday Like It Was Christmas" single with Grand Ole Opry stars The Whites was given a nod as one of the top Country Vocal Collaborations.
He presented Del McCoury his Male Vocalist of the Year Award at the IBMA Awards in Owensboro, Kentucky in 1992. Franks was tapped to host the SPBGMA Bluegrass Music Awards in Nashville, Tennessee at the Roy Acuff Theater in 1995.
His 2000 Crimson CD God's Children pays homage to the brother duets of the 1930s. The project includes appearances by David Davis, Sonny Shroyer, Enos from the The Dukes of Hazzard, the late Cotton and Jane Carrier and Marty Hays. The single "Children In Need", co-written by Franks and Tommy Scott, featured a performance with Sonny Shroyer reminding listeners of the importance of helping the children in one's community through a whimsical tale told by Ollie the Old Church Owl portrayed by Shroyer.
He led a cast of Appalachian artists to create the Share America/Crimson CD ”An Appalachian Musical Revival: Live at the Ringgold Depot” in 2008. The project raised funds for the Pearl and Floyd Franks Scholarship for the Share America Foundation, Inc. It featured Franks with Four Fold, Buddy Liles, the Marksmen Quartet, Barney Miller, the Smoky Mountain Boys, the Southern Sound Quartet, the Testimony Quartet, Voices Won, Walnut Grove Bluegrass Band, the Watkins Family, Garrett Arb, Brady Hughes, John Rice, Deborah Taylor, Calvary Strings, Mt. Peria Baptist Church Male Chorus and the Ringgold United Methodist Church Chancel Choir.
With more than 200 recordings to his credit, his music has brought him on stage or in the studio to perform with entertainers in a variety of music fields: Carl Perkins; Charlie Daniels; Peabo Bryson; The Whites; Ricky Skaggs; Kitty Wells; Pee Wee King; Jimmy Dickens; Jeff and Sheri Easter; The Lewis Family; The Isaacs; the Primitive Quartet; Bill Monroe; Jim and Jesse; Ralph Stanley; Raymond Fairchild; Jimmy Martin; Mac Wiseman; Chubby Wise; Josh Graves; Doug Dillard; Jerry Douglas; Sam Bush; Byron Berline; the Warrior River Boys; the Sand Mountain Boys; the Gary Waldrep Band; the Cox Family; the Watkins Family; the Sidemen; Elaine and Shorty; and "Doc" Tommy Scott's Last Real Old Time Medicine Show.
Franks brought a A Concert of Celebration: A Mountain Pearl to DVD in 2012 sharing a musical tribute to the Appalachian stories of Pearl and Floyd Franks through artists who shared in their lives. Franks led a cast of mountain musical stars through new performances and vintage footage including Paul Brown, John and Debbie Farley, Ramblin' "Doc" Tommy Scott, Curly Seckler, Peanut Faircloth with the Trust Jesus Singers, Chubby Wise, David Davis, Johnny Counterfit, Gary Waldrep, Barney Miller, Jeff & Sheri Easter, Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, Butch Lanham, Doodle and the Golden River Grass, Dale Tilley, Jesse McReynolds, Johnnie Sue and Nelson Richardson.
Share America Foundation released a fundraising CD entitled Randall Franks "Mountain Opry Memories" in 2013 featuring 17 recordings taken from impromptu appearances on the stage of the Mountain Opry in Walden, Tenn. on Signal Mountain from 1999-2010. The project was produced by Franks, Tom Adkins and Tom Morgan. The recording includes special appearances by David Davis, the late country pioneer Charlie "Peanut" Faircloth, Mountain Cove Bluegrass Band, Valley Grass and others. The project raises funds for both Share America and the Mountain Opry.
In addition to his schedule, Franks began working with Ramblin' Tommy Scott in 1995. While he worked on the sets of Grace Under Fire and Foxworthy in Studio City, California, he arranged for "Doc" Tommy Scott's Last Real Old Time Medicine Show with its unique bluegrass flavor to perform at celebrations during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. A veteran 1940s Grand Ole Opry comedian, Scott joined Franks on his 1999 Comedy Down Home on Crimson Records. The duo co-wrote the 1999 Lewis Family hit "You Can't Stop Time". Scott founded the original Hollywood Hillbilly Jamboree in 1945. Each has appeared on the others' stage shows.
To raise funds for the Share America Foundation, Inc. in April 2009, Franks and Scott partnered on stage to present the play An Appalachian Gathering featuring a cast of 20 performers creating a slice of Southern life in the 1940s and present day highlighting the effects of the Medicine Show on small towns through Scott's eyes. Franks played Scott in the 1940s.
Scott passed away on Sept. 30, 2013 and Franks joined by the Watkins Family performed Scott's "Say A Little Prayer" at his private memorial service.
Randall Franks returned to performing on tour in 2007 after a several year hiatus to care for his late mother. Franks asked the Watkins Family to join him as his band at those first performances both on stage and television. Franks also agreed to assist the Watkins Family adding to their concerts as a special guest. The acts have continued appearing in package shows and supporting each other's stage shows.
Randall Franks and Alan Autry through Autry-Franks Productions and Crimson Records released "Alan Autry and Randall Franks Mississippi Moon:Country Traditions" in 2013, an Americana CD featuring both actors vocally on various classic and original songs. The project which incorporates country, bluegrass and Southern gospel includes special appearances by Bluegrass Hall of Fame members Jim and Jesse McReynolds and three-time Dove Award nominee Mark Wheeler.
Franks was inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame in 2004.
Franks has been honored with many awards including The Fiddlin' John Carson Award, A.S.E. Male Vocalist of the Year, The Cotton Carrier Award, Little Jimmy Dempsey Musician Award, and a Sons of the American Revolution Citizenship Award. The Governor of Kentucky honored him for his contributions to the music of Bill Monroe. Catoosa County designated him "Appalachian Ambassador of the Fiddle" in 2004. Franks received the Songwriter of the Year Award from the Atlanta Society of Entertainers in 2009 for his song "The Old Black Fiddle" and also received Bluegrass Band of the Year with the Georgia Bluegrass Mafia Band. He appeared with that group performing that song on the live Georgia Public Broadcasting of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame Awards alongside Collective Soul and Third Day honoring Georgia music pioneer John L. "Johnny" Carson. The International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, Kentucky honored Franks as a Bluegrass Legend at its 2010 and 2011 Pioneers of Bluegrass Gatherings alongside fellow Blue Grass Boys and other pioneers.
Randall Franks and the Georgia Mafia Bluegrass Band received the 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 Atlanta Society of Entertainers Bluegrass Band of the Year Award. The Appalachian Ambassador of the Fiddle was honored as a feature performer alongside the Watkins Family by the Appalachian Regional Commission at its annual conference in 2010.
Franks said he was honored when the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Macon featured an exhibit on his career in the Skillet Licker Café beside other Georgia notables Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt, and Trisha Yearwood, which was highlighted from 1996-2007.
Franks was honored in 2013 by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal with a special commendation for his community service and philanthropy benefiting the people of Georgia. This was presented in conjunction with the Kiwanis International Distinguished Service Award.
He has performed at thousands of events including 20 years at Country Music Association Fan Fair, most of the leading Bluegrass Festivals, The National Folk Festival (United States), National Black Arts Festival, Georgia Mountain Fair, Academy of Country Music Fan Fest, Grand Ole Opry, Fiddlin' Fish Music and Arts Festival, The Grand Masters, and a Command Presidential Performance.
Franks studied commercial music while pursuing his bachelor's degree in business administration at Georgia State University. Upon graduation, he entered a position as Sales and Promotions Manager for Atlanta based MBM Records. He also served as Director for A & R for its family of labels including Encore and ASL and coordinated its publishing company. He quickly discovered that independent bluegrass and gospel music recordings were difficult to market amongst mainstream retailers but he set out to make the music he loved available in as many outlets as he could.
Bluegrass label Atteiram Records also called upon Franks as a graphic artist and liner note writer using him to design album covers or cassette inserts for many of its artists. Some among those were The Crain Brothers, Appalachian Express, James Monroe, Jim Southern and Southern Sounds, Joe Stuart and Carl Sauceman, Brother Birch Monroe, Frank Buchanan, Carl Story and the Rambling Mountaineers, Vic Jordan, The Ridgerunners, The Boyd Brothers, Hubert Cox and the Southern Grass, The Blue Ridge Gentlemen, The Pinnacle Boys, and Southwind.
As he rose in popularity on television, he used his celebrity status to break down the barriers that he previously faced as a record executive and many other bluegrass and gospel artists encountered by calling mainstream and Christian retail buyers and store managers directly using his podium from NBC and CBS to assist record companies and distributors in marketing his and other bluegrass and gospel product.
Through the effort his products and many other artists sold by the companies he worked with became available in record chains throughout the country. He produced his own recordings and also shared his studio expertise with other artists.
At a time when the industry was made of largely of established stars rather than rising new performers, Franks joined fellow rising star Alison Krauss as the most visible fiddlers and personalities of the industry in the late eighties and early nineties.
With Franks' widespread notoriety he gained by weekly network exposure, he worked to expose bluegrass and Southern Gospel to this new audience appearing on radio and television talk, news and entertainment shows. Franks continues to appear on radio stations in all formats, television stations throughout the country, and gives print interviews talking about and sharing the music he loves.
Serving both as an artist and producer, Randall Franks and his In the Heat of the Night co-star Alan Autry joined forces under the banner of Autry-Franks Productions to produce the charity In the Heat of the Night CD Christmas Time's A Comin' featuring the cast of the show. The project raised funds for drug abuse prevention charities.
With Franks producing, Autry performed his rendition of "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" in homage to Gene Autry. Franks performed an original song with Grand Ole Opry stars The Whites entitled "Let's Live Everyday Like It was Christmas". The duo both performed on "Jingle Bells" and "Christmas Time's A Comin'". Franks and Autry were able to include many music legends, some among them, Country Music Hall of Famers Kitty Wells, Jimmy Dickens, and Pee Wee King as well as many top legends from the Bluegrass genre, from Jim and Jesse to the Lewis Family. The Christmas Time's A Comin' CD released on Sonlite and MGM/UA was one of the most popular Christmas releases of 1991 and 1992 with Southern retailers.
Autry and Franks marked the 20th Anniversary in 2012 with a charity re-release available from the Share America Foundation, Inc.
Franks opened Peach Picked Publishing associated with Broadcast Music Inc. in the early 1980s focusing initially on the music created by him and his band mates. While he has written songs for large publishing companies including Lowery Music Group, Chris White Music, and Chestnut Mound Publishing, he continues writing for Peach Picked including his hit bluegrass recording "Filling the River with Tears", popularized by David Davis and the Warrior River Boys. Eventually, Peach Picked expanded to include work from bluegrass hall of fame members including Chubby Wise and Curly Seckler, Georgia Music Hall of Fame member Cotton Carrier, and recordings by acts including Marty Stuart, Ralph Stanley, The Grateful Dead, and David Davis and the Warrior River Boys. Franks also formed Randall Franks Music to manage the publishing and music catalogs of other artists. In this effort, he has assisted artists in negotiating monies from film, television, and sources around the world, including artists Ramblin' "Doc" Tommy Scott, Bill Monroe, Jim and Jesse, Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys, and Curly Seckler.
While in college, Franks became part of the cast of the WRFG radio show The Bluegrass Festival, hosted by T.P. and Sandra Hollomon. As part of the highest-rated bluegrass show in the Atlanta market, Franks participated on the weekly broadcast and occasionally filled in for the hosts. He also from time to time, hosted his own shows on WRFG. In the early 1990s, he hosted Sacred Sounds featuring bluegrass gospel on WGFS in Covington, Georgia. As of 2008[update] he hosted Sacred Sounds Fridays Live on WBFCFM.com in Ringgold, Georgia.
He carried a message of living a drug-free life to America's youth as an Honorary D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) Officer appointed by the National Dare Officers Association. He has appeared for more than 10,000 students across the country to encourage them to live a successful drug-free life while also sharing his love of bluegrass music to a new generation of listeners. He coordinated a nationwide radio campaign featuring Alan Autry, David Hart, and himself to encourage a drug-free life.
He is president of the Share America Foundation  that provides encouragement through the Pearl and Floyd Franks Scholarship to youth who are continuing the musical arts of Appalachia.
Franks served as the Chairman for the Catoosa Citizens for Literacy in 2002-04 and he took that position again in 2007-09 after serving as co-chair for two years. The organization operates the Catoosa County Learning Center helping residents reach their goals by learning to read, getting a GED or acquiring basic computer skills. He now serves as past chairman.
He serves as treasurer of the Catoosa County Local Emergency Planning Committee. The organization brings together all of the agencies the community relies upon each day when a need arises.
He is the Secretary for the Georgia Production Partnership, a Georgia Film Industry organization which works to improve industry growth and opportunities.
He is a member of the Boynton Lions Club, Catoosa Family Collaborative, Catoosa Foundation for Family Literacy, Nathan Anderson Cemetery Committee, Catoosa County Habitat for Humanity, and the Catoosa County Historical Society. He is a past president of the Kiwanis Club of Ringgold.
He is a Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame board advisor. Franks serves as a field researcher for several museums throughout the South.
Franks is currently serving on the city council in Ringgold, Georgia with the term ending on December 31, 2017. He is the Ringgold Downtown Development Authority Chairman and former Ringgold Convention and Visitor's Bureau vice chairman.