If there was one thing the saints could agree on after watching The Clark Sisters: The First Ladies of Gospel on Lifetime was that Aunjanue Ellis played the heaven out of the role of Dr. Mattie Moss Clark.
The series followed Clark, along with her five daughters, as they created the iconic Clark Sisters sound, eventually earning their way into the history books as the most celebrated and highest-selling female group in Gospel history.
Grammy Award-winning Gospel singer Kierra Sheard, who portrayed her mother Karen Clark Sheard in the television movie that captivated Black Twitter on Saturday night, told ESSENCE that she was proud of the way her aunts, but particularly her grandmother, was portrayed on the small screen.
“Aunjanue Ellis, she merked my grandmother’s role and she did it so well to where there were moments where I was just kind of crying to myself in my dressing room,” Sheard recalled. “And I would say, ‘I wish my grandmother was here to see this.’ Because she just made her come alive so well.”
Being a child in the family, Sheard admitted there was a lot of her grandmother’s story that she simply didn’t know—including that she “had challenges in her marriage” to her grandfather, Rev. Elbert Clark.
“I didn’t know the dynamic or the details of the relationship until I got older, but to me he was still Pop Pop,” she continued. “It was never, no, ‘You’re divorced from Grandma,’ and they never let us feel that.”
And although The Clark Sisters never explored what happened to Rev. Clark after he separated from Moss Clark, Sheard told ESSENCE how his story ended. He, too, died from illness.
“He kept his church going and he was very committed to that,” Sheard revealed, noting that her Aunt Elbernita “Twinkie” Clark was involved in his church. “Unfortunately, he is deceased now.”
Sheard said seeing how much her grandmother, Moss Clark, fought not only her husband, but the bishops in the COGIC church to ensure her daughters served the Lord and created a group that would inspire millions to Christ was inspirational.
“Seeing the fight and the challenge that my grandmother had from both sides of men—in her marriage and then in the church—it was like, ‘Dog, you went through all of that for what? It may not have seemed like you were fighting so much for something then, but I wish you could see the benefits of it now,'” the “You Don’t Know” singer said. “It definitely had an effect on her legacy, on her grandchildren. And it’s still music that is living today by being sampled by some of the world’s biggest pop artists.”
Sheard noted one scene from The Clark Sisters that perfectly portrayed the strength of her grandmother, when she accompanied her daughters to perform at The Grammy Awards in 1983. The COGIC Church swiftly reprimanded Moss Clark for the performance, eventually stripping away her title as the international president of the church’s music department. Sheard, whose father, Bishop John Drew Sheard, was an executive producer of The Clark Sisters and who’s now a bishop in the COGIC church, said the move was a mistake.
“Even as Christ followers, we’re supposed to be fishers of men, spreading the gospel and not just in the church. So here you had this Black woman, who was this strong and effective and powerful leader in the church,” Sheard began. “It’s even kind of risky that I say this, but she was more effective than some men in the church.”
“Those who know the truth will accept it as the truth, and I think that those who are oblivious of the development and the growth of the church overall will probably take it to heart and misinterpret or misunderstand it,” she continued. “There are things that they did years ago out of not being completely clear on what the Bible meant in some ways and because we’ve gained a greater understanding of what this means…we chew the meat and spit out the bones and we move on because at the end of the day the story is still powerful.”