Black History Inspiration Spotlight: The Clark Sisters

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Clark Sisters2

Through the 1980’s, the Clark Sisters had the most exciting and talked about stage show in the entire gospel field. There were no laser lights and no big rig props, it was just the girls and their band, and they never ceased to turn whatever church they entered inside out and upside down.  As astounding as their biggest hit records such as “My Redeemer Liveth,” Is My Living in Vain” and their R&B breakthrough “You brought the Sunshine” were on wax, they paled in comparison to the colors the sisters rinsed them in concert.  Therefore, it’s no surprise that the Clark Sisters’ sic and intricate vocalizing have influenced the vocal style of Mariah Carey, Faith Evans, Exscape, Kelly Price, Mary Mary, Kenny Lattimore, and Smokie Norful, among others.

The Clark Sister’s mother, the legendary Mattie Moss Clark, was the president of the music department for the Church of God In Christ (COGIC) and coached and recorded choirs around the country for years.  She dragged her children with her and pushed her daughters to sing just as her own mother had pushed her to play the piano years before.  The five Clark sisters (Jacky, Twinkie, Denise, Dorinda, and Karen) were reared in Detroit and professionally assembled as a group in 1973.

Perfectionist extraordinaire Mattie would even awaken the girls in the middle of the night if she felt the Lord had given her a song.  While this was hard on the girl’s playtime, it was also hard on the singers in Mattie’s choirs, who often complained behind her back that Mattie favored her daughters over other singers.  If she was teaching a choir and they couldn’t get the song right, Mattie would call her daughters out and have them flawlessly sing a song they had probably learned, sleepy-eyed, in the middle of the night.

The Clark sisters incorporated all of Mattie’s vocal ides along with their own nuances and fussed it with the R&B styles being pioneered by Stevie Wonder and other secular singers of the 1970’s.  When they were barely teenagers, their Uncle Bill Moss produced their debut LP Jesus Has A Lot To Give in 1973 for his Bilmo Records.  The next year, they followed up with Mattie Moss Clark Presents The Clark Sisters and hit the road to promote the projects.

After creating a considerable buzz in the gospel world with their nonconformist style, the Clark Sisters signed with the Detroit based Sound of Gospel Records label in 1976 and produced a string of gospel smashes such as “Nothing to Lose” and “A Praying Spirit”.  As they honed their performance skills, the piano playing Elbertina “Twinkie” Clark composed the bulk of their recording material.  The Clarks continued fusing blues, jazz, classical, swing, and disco into their brand of gospel that clearly separated it from the rest of the pack.

All information was found in “Uncloudy Days, The Gospel Music Encyclopdia by Bil Carpenter on Backbeat Books.  To purchase log on to www.uncloudydays.com.

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