The Clark Sisters completely transformed the soundscape of contemporary gospel music. Due to their innovative vocal techniques and interpretations of scriptures, gospel got a fresh sound that has trickled down to influence R&B and rap music too.
The singers were able to incorporate their wide range of inspirations, from jazz to funk, blended with the instrumentation and methodology that was common in the Black church, giving their music a more modern feel. This journey was documented in Lifetime’s original biopic The Clark Sisters: The First Ladies of Gospel.
The film explores The Clark Sisters’ lives from childhood to the height of their success. But in order to understand the magnitude of the sisters’ impact, you have to know a bit of their history.
ESSENCE compiled a list of fun facts about The Clark Sisters. Check it out below.
The Clark Sisters’ mother, Mattie Moss-Clark, was a prolific gospel singer as well.
Mattie Juliet Moss-Clark was born in Alabama and relocated to Detroit in 1958. She was famous for her skills as a choir director and is largely credited with teaching choirs three-part harmony.
Moss-Clark was a singer-songwriter, too, and taught her daughters her earliest material to help them practice.
She was also one of the first gospel acts to have an album go gold, meaning it sold over 500,000 copies.
The Clark Sisters have won multiple Grammy Awards.
In 2007, The Clark Sisters won Grammys for Best Gospel Performance and Best Traditional Gospel Album for “Blessed & Highly Favored” and Live—One Last Time, respectively. The group has been nominated a total of seven times, with its first nomination being in 1983 for their Sincerely album.
They also famously performed at the 1983 Grammys with their mother, which was detailed in the Lifetime biopic.
Karen Clark-Sheard, Dorinda Clark-Cole, Twinkie Clark, and Jacky Clark-Chisholm have all enjoyed successful solo careers.
Twinkie Clark was the first member of The Clark Sisters to go solo—she released the album Comin’ Home in 1992. Karen Clark Sheard’s 1997 live debut, Finally Karen, was a smash, and was nominated for Best Soul Gospel Album at the 1998 Grammys.
Dorinda Clark Cole’s eponymous debut album was a live recording as well and featured classic songs, such as “I’m Still Here” and “Show Me the Way.” The album won two Stellar Awards.
Jacky Clark Chisholm released her first solo album, Expectancy, in 2005.
Mariah Carey is a fan of The Clark Sisters.
“The Clark Sisters are my favorite gospel group,” Carey said to the British outlet Independent in 2005.
During the same interview, Carey also spoke about being a fan of Kierra Sheard, Karen’s daughter and protégée.
“[She] has been singing with her mother over the years, and I have been just waiting for her to put an album out, which she did this year, and it is great,” Mimi said.
“You Brought The Sunshine” was their biggest crossover hit.
Inspired by the reggae influence on Stevie Wonders’ song “Master Blaster (Jammin,)” Twinkie Clark reworked the arrangement to give Gospel listeners “You Brought the Sunshine” in 1981. But the song was a hit across the board, and received airplay on secular radio stations as well.
The song gave The Clark Sisters their first taste of major mainstream success, and they were even asked to perform at the legendary Studio 54 in New York City. Although their mother declined the performance invite, the song climbed the charts and the album You Brought the Sunshine, their eighth studio effort, was their first gold record.
Multiple hip-hop and R&B songs have sampled The Clark Sisters.
From Aaliyah’s “Never Giving Up” to Jay-Z and Beyonce’s “Family Feud” to “Demolition 1 + 2” by Key!, The Clark Sisters have enjoyed multiple reintroductions to new generations.
“Wow!!! who would’ve thought this phenomenal Artist would use our songs. Thank you Jay Z & Beyonce,” Karen Clark Sheard wrote on Instagram after the release of “Family Feud,” which sampled “Ha-Ya (Eternal Life.)”
The Clark Sisters were influenced by Aretha Franklin.
Both The Clark Sisters and Aretha Franklin grew up in Detroit. All the vocalists are lauded for mixing popular music styles with gospel, and Twinkie Clark has maintained that Franklin greatly impacted the group.
“Me and my sisters got a lot of our riffs and runs from her. The way she did her moans and groans, we’d do the same way,” Twinkie Clark said to the Detroit Free Press in 2018. “The way she’d improvise and ad lib, hit high notes, then go all the way down and hit low notes, we listened to all of that.”
When Mattie Moss Clark passed away in 1994, Franklin sang at her funeral. And when Franklin died of pancreatic cancer in 2018, The Clark Sisters sang one of their signature songs, “Is My Living In Vain,” at her service.
PJ. Moss is The Clark Sisters’ cousin.
Record producer, singer and songwriter J. Moss is the son of Bill Moss, the brother of Mattie Moss Clark. Bill was represented in The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel during the scene in which the young quintet recorded in a studio for the first time. His character is seen behind the soundboard talking to Mattie.
As a member of the songwriting and production group PAJAM, J. Moss has worked with a number of artists over the years, including ’Nsync and Kelly Price.
The group was honored at the 2016 ESSENCE Festival.
For their contributions to music, ESSENCE celebrated The Clark Sisters at our annual culture fest in 2016. Kierra Sheard, Keke Wyatt and Yolanda Adams were among the performers who honored the group. The Clarks Sisters even hit the stage for an impromptu performance of “My Redeemer Liveth.”
The Clark Sisters: The First Ladies of Gospel was co-produced by Missy Elliott, Mary J. Blige and Queen Latifah.
In 2018, news broke that Elliott, Blige and Latifah had signed on to produce the project, which was then titled You Brought the Sunshine. Each producer, as well as other big names, such as Kelly Rowland, have spoken about just how impactful The Clark Sisters have been throughout the course of their nearly 50-year career.
“One of my very first musical memories was definitely The Clark Sisters,” Rowland said.