The legendary Clark Sisters of Detroit, Michigan have been a formidable fixture in Gospel music for nearly forty years (yes, nearly 40 years!!!) serving up some of the most memorable selections sacred music has ever recorded. Is My Living In Vain, Endow Me, My Cup Runneth Over and Pray For The USA are just a short list of classics composed and delivered by Motown’s and Dr. Mattie Moss Clark’s anointed daughters – Twinkie (Elbernita) Clark, Dorinda Clark Cole, Jackie Clark Chisolm and Karen Clark Sheard.
As products and proud ambassadors of the Church of God In Christ, The Clark Sisters reputation over the years as the new paradigm in perfecting praise would extend beyond the walls of the church to include the admiration and respect of their Christian and mainstream recording peers.
In recent years, each of the anointed ladies have tested and tried their hands at a solo recording career that has further appeased their incredibly loyal fan base while expanding their respective ministries to new frontiers. Yet, the longing for another Clark Sisters recording persists. Well, it appears the wait is over.
This past summer, Twinkie, Dorinda, Jackie and Karen reunited in Houston, Texas for one final live recording featuring the acclaimed Clark Sisters. Like many of the famed recording artists of the last generation (Commissioned, The Tri-City Singers, New Life Community Singers, The Thompson Community Singers), the Clark Sisters united as a group and family to blend spirit and sound for one unforgettable evening that drew saints and celebrities alike. BlackGospel.com spoke with two of the titans in the group – Karen Clark Sheard and Dorinda Clark Cole – about their momentous event that has everyone abuzz with giddy anticipation.
Christopher Heron: After a 12-year break, the legendary Clark Sisters finally recorded together, this past summer. Why was now the right season for the Clark Sisters to finally record as a group, perhaps for the very last time?
Karen Clark Sheard: Well, I don’t want to sound funny, but I think that at the age that we’re at now, we’re not getting any younger. So we all decided that this is a good time for us. All of us also have solo albums out and of course, we thought it was a good time to support each other. It’s like in the old days.
Dorinda Clark-Cole: I think we never wanted this recording to be the last time. But God has really empowered us to go to other levels of ministry and we’re not getting any younger. I think it’s in every group that there is not a break-up but a time we call separation when you just move on in life. To go to new levels, change must take place.
The Clark sisters will never ever break up. They will always be together. Our mom taught us that when we were kids. There will never be a separation between us. We grew up to be a close knit family. There were times when we would separate in different seasons of our lives but God always has a way of bringing us back together.
This is what I love about what God is doing with us. Not only is He using us collectively to impact the world, but He uses us individually to impact the world in so many different ways. When we come together, we can really try to help many people as we see them. But when we are separated individually, God could also use us to reach even more people in our individual settings and that is what God is doing with us, which is so unique.
CH: In recent years, of course, we have seen some finales; of course we saw the Commission Reunion a few years back, the Tri-City Singers earlier this year and the Thompson Community Singers Reunion very soon. What should we expect with the final live recording from the Clark Sisters?
KCS: I think you can expect a little of the old Clark Sisters and a little of the new Clark Sisters. That’s pretty much what to expect.
CH: Are we looking at new songs, some classic hits from back in the day?
KCS: Well, we’re looking at brand new songs but we’re going take you back with the classics. And kind of take the classics and mix the new, making it different from back then, but fans will be able to recognize the songs.
CH: Is Twinkie and some of the other sisters writing songs? Should we expect special friends and family members of the Clark Sisters, like Donald Lawrence, J Moss, your daughter Kierra and others to contribute to the album?
KCS: Oh, absolutely! I think our best contribution would be writing. Twinkie is just blessed. She is just the aura of the Clark Sisters. It’s because of her writing ability, I think, that the Clark Sisters have received the attention they have. She’s written songs for our next album. And of course, God has blessed us all to write as well. We’re all collaborating together as a family, including my daughter. She’s written songs and my even my son (Drew Sheard) produced one of the songs. We’re honoring the prayers of our mother – Dr. Mattie Moss Clark.
DCC: There is so much excitement in the air! Even now, it’s coming all together, having a phenomenal producer with Donald Lawrence, who is one of our favorite producers. We were so honored that he was able to do it for us. He’s brought all of our old hits back and songs that we didn’t even remember. It’s really exciting to know how Donald pulled this together and it took on a whole new life, this project. We are really happy about that. Twinkie wrote songs, I wrote a song, Jackie wrote a song. So we all contributed on a whole other scale.
And this is what I’m talking about, as far as God taking us to different levels. Because before, it was Twinkie who would do all the writing and now, it just shows we’re all individually writing our own songs. So it’s going to be a very, very lovable project that will show what the Clark Sisters can do. The album will have some new stuff, some old stuff, other artist’s material. It’s going to be really, really exciting. I am looking forward to it.
CH: I can imagine! Now, what is be the biggest difference between the Clark Sisters that people will hear on their latest recording and the group people remember from back, way back in the 80’s and early 90’s?
KCS: We’re going to give you a bit of the new music that’s out today in Gospel music. Just a little bit. We want to reach everybody. We want to reach the young people and we want to reach the older ones as well. There’s a little bit of Worship & Praise and then there’s the way the Clark Sisters sing that’s in a way that God blesses things. We’ve been known for the spontaneous gift that pours out when we join together on stage. Sometimes it’s things that we don’t rehearse vocally but that anointing can be in everybody. We’re all different persons but in coming together, we bring the Clark sisters flavor.
DCC: I don’t think there will be any difference because we hold the legacy of our mom forever. She is the one who helped us achieve what we have today. We will never forget that. And of course, we want to pay tribute to her as well. I think our fans want to see us as we are. And, as you know, sometimes it upsets fans if you do something really crazy so that’s not what you’re going to hear. You’re going to hear us as we are.
I mean, when you hear us, you’re going to hear some early 80’s, you’re going to hear some of the 90’s, you’re going to hear some of the new millennium, just variations from where we were up until now. I would say it’s going to be a homecoming. A lot of our fans from mainstream came to the recording. They remembered us when we recorded You Brought The Sunshine. So, there’s not going to be a lot of change. We’ll just be more up to date with the sound of today.
CH: Now The Clark Sisters have all grown into such confident and distinctive individual artists with each sister having her own independent style. How easy or difficult was it for this recording to sacrifice one’s distinguishing style for the sake of the group and make room for each other’s contributions, especially at this point in your lives, as artists?
KCS: I think it all stems from the love that our mother instilled in us …that God put us all together for His purpose. On her deathbed, my mother said: “I want you to stay together, no matter what.” And I think that, even today as I said before, we are honoring her prayers. She wanted us to be a family, because there are so many families that are separated now.
She emphatically told us, “You girls, God put you together as blood. Many times the enemy is going to come in and try to separate what God has put together but you have to overcome what your enemy is trying to bring upon you.” And I think that is what we’ve done. We have kept what she instilled in us and that is why we are back together today. Even though we have done our own thing, we still support each other as well. And I think in that, alone, the great teaching of my mom and her example has worked for us and that is why we have stuck together.
DCC: A lot of our fans don’t really know that we do a lot of reunion appearances. So it’s not hard for us to break away from our normal schedules, as far as our individual careers, to come together. We’re always singing together, for example with the past Super Bowl, we were honored to be a part of the Super Bowl Gospel Celebration and perform with Patti Labelle and Mary Mary so, it’s not really a challenge for us. We always look out for each other, we always make room for things that we’re doing together because we love each other. There are no hard feelings towards each other. We always stick together and that’s the way God pulled us together.
I really want you to mention this one thing. My brother-in-law, Pastor J. Drew Sheard played a very, very important role in this recording because he’s the one who pitched the idea to us to record together. We really didn’t consider doing another recording, at least not right now but when Pastor Sheard had pitched the idea to us, it was like, “Oh my God! It would be a perfect opportunity.” And thanks to the leadership of the Church of God in Christ, Pastor Sheard asked Bishop G.E. Patterson if it would be ok for us to do this recording during his term in the office, as chairman. For Bishop Patterson to give us this opportunity, it was an honor. It felt so in place.
The timing and place was perfect because number one, it is our church. We are products of the Church of God in Christ. Church of God in Christ is just our heritage because it all goes back to my mom. That’s where the foundation was for so many of today’s artists. So it’s really bringing it back to our foundation where the Clark Sisters started from. We thank God for Pastor Sheard who truly came up with the idea.
CH: I’m sure close associates of the Clark Sisters, family members and friends were encouraging this recording for years, as I’m sure many labels have offered to support this recording. So which label has the privilege of producing, marketing and distributing this special album? Are we talking about Gospel Centric, Verity or will the Clark Sisters produce this album on their own independent label?
KCS: We are working with EMI Gospel. They have certainly done a phenomenal job with my daughter (Kierra KiKi Sheard). They paved the way for her career. So, this is why we chose EMI Gospel.
For more information on the Clark Sisters, visit the official website at www.theclarksisters.com. For information on Karen Clark Sheard, visit her official website at www.karenclarksheard.com. For information on the 8th Annual Singers and Musicians Conference hosted by Dorinda Clark Cole, visit the official website at www.singersandmusicians.com or call 1-866-744-7664.