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The Clark Sisters Biography

Last updated: 07/08/2013 08:04:49 PM

The Clark Sisters have been singing for as long as they can remember, with music as natural a part of their lives as the air they breathed. With a compelling, commanding fusion of styles as diverse as blues, jazz, R&B and classical, sisters Jacky, Twinkie, Karen and Dorinda created a sound that was new, fresh and entirely their own.

With a blend that can come only in the blood, they have stood for the better part of their lives as a bridge between hallowed tradition and bold innovation. On Live – One Last Time, their newest release and first album together in over twelve years, they offer a virtual treasure trove of both.

Truly a landmark work, the live recording comprises nearly two-and-a-half hours of both new material--almost all original--and an absolutely stunning, 21-song medley of Clark Sisters classics that leaves the listener literally breathless by is final fade. Produced by Donald Lawrence, another of Gospel's great, enduring talents, the project is an epic undertaking of unprecedented scope which succeeds--boldly and brilliantly--at every turn.

The sisters exude joy and exuberance on "Livin'," a rollicking R&B joyride, written by Lawrence expressly for the Clarks, and featuring a pitch-perfect, trademark ensemble vocal. Reflecting on the No.1, multi-format smash, "You Brought the Sunshine," which, in 1981, sent the Clarks soaring into one of the most fabled careers in Gospel music, Jacky Clark-Chisholm recalls the night in early 2006 when she first heard "Livin'.'

"The first time that Donald played 'Livin' for us, we felt exactly like we did the first time that Twinkie played 'You Brought the Sunshine' for the rest of us," she says. "We were blown away! It's such a happy song, and we just could not stop singing it! It's us, plain and simple. When we look back--and all around us today--we are proud, and so grateful, to God and so many wonderful people, and happy to be living the life He's given us. And Donald wrote a song for us that just perfectly expresses that."

"Blessed and Highly Favored," written by and featuring Karen, is a breathtaking, high-wire walk of a performance, which--of even greater significance--cements her place as one the great songwriters of her era.

"Karen has always been such a phenomenal singer," Jacky says of her sister, "and she has grown into an equally amazing writer. More and more, it just seems whenever she opens her mouth, a story--and the sentiments of her heart…all in the perfect words--come pouring out. We have been just that: blessed and highly favored. She's putting the Clark Sisters' life to words and music."

With virtually unlimited range, dazzling dynamics, and multi-textured runs, riffs, and scats having long been hallmarks of their singular vocal style--the "Clark Sisters Sound" has given inspiration to countless great singers of today. With millions-upon-millions of album-sales to their collective credit, that select circle includes both Gospel and mainstream R&B and pop stars, including Mariah Carey, Mary Mary, Kim Burrell, Kelly Price, Missy Elliott, Trin-i-tee 5:7, Virtue, and Faith Evans, to name but a few (Evans, in the late '90s, crediting the Clark Sisters as one of the "great musical inspirations" of her life," dueted on a cut from Karen's hugely successful, debut solo album).

The sisters, born between 1951 and '60, all showed prodigious musical talent from early childhood, and were raised under the careful musical and moral tutelage of their pastor father, and renowned mother, Dr. Mattie Moss Clark. Dr. Clark, (1925-1994), from the early 1960s to '90s, was the president of the National Music Department (cq) of the seven-million-member Church of God in Christ (COGIC), the largest African-American, Pentecostal denomination in the United States. A celebrated songwriter, vocalist, pianist and arranger, and widely known as a demanding taskmaster, Dr. Clark often used her talented "in-house" vocal ensemble to test-run new material and arrangements on which she was working.

The seeds for what would become Live – One Last Time, were first planted by Karen's husband--and the group's de facto manager--Reverend Drew Sheard. When he suggested the foursome reunite to give both posterity, and the flocks of still-faithful Clark Sisters fans, a taste of some new "sisters" material, as well as new, live renditions of a large number of Clark standards--most long out of print--all four warmed quickly to the idea. The group approached the multi-Grammy-winning Lawrence about coming onboard, and he accepted immediately.

Live – One Last Time was recorded in July, 2006, before a sell-out crowd of 6,000 in Houston's George R. Brown Convention Center. Though the sisters had established successful solo careers since last recording together, in 1994, they approached the reunion uncertain if their identity as a group still had any drawing power at the box office. They didn't have to wait long for an answer.

Arriving at the hall several hours ahead of showtime, the Clarks were surprised to find a line of ticket-holders doubled around the block outside the venue, gladly enduring a hot, sticky Houston evening for a chance at choice seating. "It was an awesome thing to see," recalls Jacky. "You hear about things like that. You see things like that on TV. But you don't ever expect to step out and see it happening in your life."

After what will surely be marked as a landmark event in Gospel music history, the sisters encore with the still-smoking, "You Brought the Sunshine," which the crowd--even though showered with one signature song after another--clearly knew still lay in store. Jacky, Twinkie, Karen and Dorinda deliver it with the same freshness and exuberance of four young ladies, in a Detroit living room years ago, with both the world--literally--and a world of possibilities still before them.

And it's the perfect coda to an incredible career, and one still rich with portents of great things to come. "We've all got our own stories to share, and life experiences that are much like the people who came out that night in the thousands to see us, and always have," Dorinda explains. "I think that's why our songs, and singing, still connect the way they do--even after all this time. On this album, we just did our best to do what we always do: give everyone a night of amazing music,with a message that they can leave having been touched by, and hopefully impacted for the good."

Ultimately--and inevitably--a lifetime, milestone work the likes of Live – One Last Time, begs the question of just how talents as vibrant and vital as those of Twinkie, Karen, Jacky and Dorinda Clark can ever be "retired" by any vote, decision, or power lesser than that of the Creator and Giver of those gifts. It's a question the sisters have been asking themselves a lot lately, and a query for which Karen has a ready reply, as decisive as it is open-ended.

"Sharing the Gospel, touching hearts, pointing people toward the Cross…that's what our job and calling as Christians is about, and that never ends," she says. "And there will always be a 'Clark Sisters,' and we will always make music in some form and configuration or another. We could no more stop singing than we could stop being sisters. But that's not what this is about, and not what our minds are on.

"I'm sure the Lord will unfold that in His own time," Karen concludes. "As far as recording together goes, if we never made another Clark Sisters album again, we would be proud to be remembered for this one--more-so than any other--and we would know we had done something of excellence to the praise and glory of God."