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The Clark Sisters – Still A Family Affair

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By Tene Perry –

It was a good two to three minutes of shuffling around seats and giggling before Elbernita (“Twinkie”), Dorinda, Karen and Jacky could decide who was going to sit where amongst a couch and a couple of chairs.

Watching them, you could see them as young girls on a church pew shuffling around before service begins.

There was a presence of love and joy to just be around each other with each one enjoying their own success. It was an honor for me just to witness this very moment to watch The Clark Sisters in their true element…just being family.

Beginning singing in their church choir under the direction of their mother, the late Dr. Mattie Moss Clark who herself was a gospel recording artist; they formed a group that paved the way for today’s gospel artists to reach the mainstream audience.

If you were to ask Kirk Franklin, Mary Mary or even The Winans they will attribute the influence of The Clark Sisters for their own phenomenal success. However, The Clark Sisters continue to set the bar, having recorded over 16 albums and being the most successful all female gospel group of all time; but for them they’re just continuing the family business…sharing the gospel with the world.

TP: What were the ups and downs growing up as a gospel group and as family? I know there was a lot of pressure and especially pressure from your mother – I watched TV One’s Unsung so I got a little bit of the background (laughing).

JACKY: I’m not going to say it was hard, because all we knew was each other. It was fun in a way but it was just who we were. But when you’re looking from the outside in it may seem it was difficult but all we knew was each other. My mother always kept us together, we’re very closely knit. We had our friends in the neighborhood but we didn’t always want to go out to play… TP: How did your experiences over the years help you guide the careers of Kiki Sheard (Karen’s daughter) and J. Moss (their cousin)?

Because they too have had tremendous success and I can only believe that it came from your influence.

KAREN: I feel like we sort of paved the way for the next generation of the gift that has been implemented in the family. Because there have been times where they will come to us out of respect, asking ‘What do you think I should do about this situation?’ or ‘What do you think I should say on stage?’ But of course…the next generation does things differently.

They want a mixture of the old school and the new school.

TP: Being in the business for so long and being one of the pioneers of taking gospel mainstream, since then it has grown in leaps and bounds. What do you feel is the future for gospel music?

TWINKIE: I think that it looks very, very hopeful. Especially with the television exposure that it’s getting and now awards shows. You have a lot more secular artists doing more gospel. I think that gospel’s going to a higher level now. You have gospel artists that are writing songs for secular artists and it expands the sound of gospel as far as mixing and recording… you have gospel artists such as Marvin Sapp who are crossing over to not only mainstream but inspirational.

DORINDA: And I have to say this…in our day it was (the late) Walter Hawkins, Edwin Hawkins and the Hawkins family, they were the very first ones along with Mama Shirley (Caesar) – whom we’re honoring here at the Essence Festival – paved the way for us. And you look at artists like that who opened the doors for us to come through and then Twinkie wrote a song for us called “You Brought the Sunshine”; TP: “You Brought the Sunshine” is my favorite.

DORINDA: …and it really crossed over into mainstream…and I feel like it’s helping the world because we are sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. And when you get everybody on board, it unifies us… TP: So Karew Records, tell me about this…is this the family business?

KAREN: The first project was ‘A Clark Family Christmas’ (released Christmas 2009 on Karew Records).

It is a family business. My daughter Kierra (Kiki Sheard) is over creative artistry and my son is over A&R, and then we have an absolute great team! I think what makes a great company is about getting key people who have experience in the industry. My expertise is artistry and performance… we get input from my sisters as well and I’ve got great feedback from them.

TP: Now Dorina has a radio show, I would like to talk about that.

DORINDA: The radio show is doing well. It’s Serving Up Soul Radio and it’s syndicated in 28 markets.

I’m so glad that it’s really moving and it took off from the very beginning. I was so shocked to find out that I was nominated for the Crystal Mike Media Award, which is something I’m so excited about. But just to sit down with mainstream artists…gospel artists…to sit down with them one on one and talk to them about their lives and what they are going through. Like last week I had a chance to interview Debbie Allen on the show and we the chance to discuss spiritual things… TP: What other projects are in the works for you all?

TWINKIE: I will be working on a live recording next month in St. Louis at the Church of God In Christ Headquarters, The Holy Convocation. I hope to have my sisters perform at least two songs…it should be released no later than March 2011.

TP: Karen, how do you feel about your latest project “All-In-One”?

KAREN: I am really excited about this project and the success thus far…especially because my son, whose 19, and he produced on this project. It was a passion for me to be in the studio and have my 19 year old to tell me what to do…and I had to give him the respect for the gift that has been carried on. And then Jacky’s daughter wrote a lot of songs on my project as well. So to see the gift being passed down to our children… even down from my mother Dr. Mary Moss Clark, who already spoke (into fruition) that you’re children’s children will be blessed and to see it happening now is just amazing to us.

JACKY: And what’s even more amazing is that J. Drew (Karen’s son) has taught himself to play instruments….

learning each one individually… and then go into the studio and then put it all together...he is off the chain!

TP: So you guys know this business is going to continue on…

CLARK SISTERS: Oh of course!

JACKY: I think that’s why God had given us such longevity because we keep in it in the family…we work harmoniously and a lot of times in groups you don’t see that because everyone got their own way of doing things. But in our family it’s nothing like that…there’s no jealousy among us because we are sisters and that’s what our mother taught us. I believe that’s what sets us apart…because of the anointing, we’re family and the way we were raised…and you see it in our children.

What you put into them is what you will get out of them…

TP: Karen, what inspired you to do an album about all of the different aspects in your life (mother, wife, First Lady) and the spirituality behind that?

KAREN: It’s because I believe that there’s an attack on family.

TP: Wow, you are so right!

KAREN: Even in the church (and) outside of the church. But especially in the church, that’s where the attack is first. Even with this company I couldn’t have done it without my husband, Bishop J. Drew Sheard. I could not have raise my children without my husband. I’m a pastor’s wife and a mother…and there’s a lot of hats that I’m wearing and I really wanted to gear it around family. I feel that the key thing that the enemy attacks is the family, especially in African American families.

It is obvious that the Clark family has one thing in common, they are all in the business of spreading the word and being an example of God’s powerful works – by showing the world what a successful and loving family can do if they just put their minds and hearts into their God-given talent.

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