by Jeff Meier (FB: Jeff.Meier.90)
Of course, it would take a superstar group of powerful Black women to sell and make a movie about The Clark Sisters, the pioneering Detroit siblings who are now in their fitth decade of rocking the gospel music world.
Tonight’s “The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel” (airing on Lifetime at 8PM) comes from executive producers Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige and Missy Elliott, co-executive producer Holly Davis Carter, writer Camille Tucker and director Christine Swanson.
I had my own Clark Sisters experience while working as an executive at TV One back in 2007-08, where The Clark Sisters were the subjects of one of the very first episodes of network’s successful biography series “UnSung,” a show I developed and initially oversaw.
At the time, I generally knew enough about The Clark Sisters to recognize their breakthroughs in transforming the gospel music sound – and I felt that the world had not generally afforded them enough credit for that. But I didn’t know much else about their personal story and ended up fascinated by the conflicts and struggle, and of course, all the music. It’s not a surprise to me that producer Carter said she’s been trying to make this movie for 15 years – it is a worthy story to tell.
In honor of this movie accomplishment, Good Black News offers a career-spanning Spotify playlist below to allow you to keep enjoying the patented Clark Sister Sound all weekend long.
The Clark Sisters Playlist was crafted to include most of the key hits from The Clark Sisters – as well as highlights from the solo careers of Karen Clark Sheard, Dorinda Clark-Cole, Twinkie Clark, and even from next generation Clark family gospel superstar Kierra Sheard (who plays her mom Karen in the movie). For good measure, there’s also a rare solo track from Jacky Clark-Chisholm (a duet with movie exec producer Blige), and a coda from Dr. Mattie Moss Clark herself.
Jacky, Denise, Elbernita (Twinkie), Dorinda, and Karen were the five daughters of Mattie Moss Clark, a pioneering gospel music figure herself, who while raising her daughters also served as a minister of music for the Church of God In Christ, first at the local level in Michigan, but eventually at the national level.
In the late ’50s and early ’60s, a time when gospel music was dominated by soloists like Mahalia Jackson, as well as touring quartets and quintets, Mattie Moss Clark’s specialty was the blending of sounds in bigger choirs, reportedly becoming the first person to commit a bigger gospel choir to record. She led the Southwest Michigan State Choir to multiple gold records as an arranger, choral director, soloist and songwriter.
The Clark daughters started early, as members of the choirs that their mother directed, and the earliest Clark sister solos can be found in some of these ultra-rare recordings (not findable on Spotify).
By the early 1970s, The Clark Sisters were a vocal quintet themselves, issuing local albums in the Detroit area on a label owned by their uncle Bill Moss (a Gospel Hall of Famer in his own right as leader of Bill Moss & The Celestials, and father of producer/performer J Moss). In particular, Mother Clark had been encouraging the prodigious talents of middle daughter Twinkie, who didn’t just sing – she also wrote and played the organ.
Twinkie soon found that her musical exploration took her beyond the confines of what had been traditional gospel music, and The Clark Sisters success (and early notoriety) kicked into true high gear as Twinkie began to experiment in the late ’70s with funkier R & B and jazz sounds.
Famously, their 1981 breakthrough crossover hit “You Brought the Sunshine” was inspired by the rhythms of Stevie Wonder‘s massive secular hit “Master Blaster (Jammin’).” While their wide-ranging musical explorations were not embraced by many more traditional church members at the time, it is clear in hindsight that they truly paved the way for the popular gospel music of today.
The Clark Sisters were rocking the turntables a decade before The Winans, and a good two decades or more ahead of Kirk Franklin and Mary Mary (all of whom have worked with The Clarks in the intervening years).
It’s also clear that they accomplished a separate goal of spreading the gospel outside of church walls – as their passionate vocal harmonies and funky rhythms have inspired a generation of female R & B hitmakers from Blige, Kelly Price, Faith Evans, and Fantasia to groups like SWV and Xscape – all of whom have either sampled, covered or worked with The Clarks.
Even today, The Clark Sisters (long now a quartet since sister Denise’s retirement from the group in the early ’80s – and now ranging in age from 59 to 71) continue to stay on top of contemporary trends, both gospel and mainstream.
Last year, they guested on Snoop Dogg‘s gospel album (can anyone imagine something like that in the era of Mahalia Jackson?). And this year, Snoop returned the favor on the sisters’ first full release in over a decade, appropriately titled “The Return,” issued last month. There’s even a song on the new album, called “Masterpiece,” with rhythms that to my ears seem reminiscent of Wiz Khalifa‘s huge rap smash “Black & Yellow.”
Less on my mind when making “UnSung” but important to highlight now, is that all this initial musical exploration was accomplished by Twinkie and her sisters at a time when Black female singers often had their careers overseen by white men, and were told what songs to perform.
Nona Hendryx wrote some of Labelle‘s songs and Aretha Franklin wrote several of her tracks (and of course, played the piano). But Twinkie wrote, produced, sang, played organ – on nearly all The Clark Sisters tracks. Raised by a woman who had been a pioneering leader herself, Twinkie was truly in charge.
How interesting that all these pioneering efforts happened outside of the mainstream, within what would have been considered a very conservative church world. With the resurgent women’s movement of the past few years, 2020 is truly the time to acknowledge The Clark Sisters (and Dr. Clark) for all they’ve accomplished, both as singers – and as lady bosses.
Enjoy the movie, and let us know how you enjoy the playlist!
Original article source: https://goodblacknews.org/2020/04/11/bringing-the-sunshine-gbn-offers-clark-sisters-playlist-to-celebrate-lifetime-biopic-airing-tonight-listen/ | Article may or may not reflect the views of KLEK 102.5 FM or The Voice of Arkansas Minority Advocacy Council