In black music, there have been a plethora of musical families that have captivated not only our ears but also our hearts. From the multi-talented Jacksons to the sweet sounds of DeBarge, we have fallen in love with family groups and their alluring genetic makeup and innate synchronicity. Although some were more popular than others, none have done it quite like Jackie, Twinkie, Dorinda, Denise and Karen, better known as The Clark Sisters.
Born and raised in the city of Detroit, these ladies began singing in church together as young girls. Under the direction of their mother, Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, The Clark Sisters took over the world of gospel music with their electrifying recordings. Adored by millions for their vocal acrobats and precise harmonies, The Clark Sisters have been coined as the “Pioneers of Contemporary Gospel.” Credited as vocal inspirations to talented singers such as Faith Evans, Kelly Price and Mariah Carey, the beloved Clark sound runs deep. With an illustrious career that has been sustained for over four decades, The Clark Sisters have released 16 studio albums, won 2 Grammys and are the best-selling female group in gospel music history.
The Clark Sisters have had a tremendous impact on artists and musicians alike, but have unfortunately not always been recognized for their efforts. Let’s take a minute to acknowledge and appreciate 10 covers, samples and/or performances of The Clark Sisters’ material.
1. R&B Diva Kelly Price covered one of The Clark Sisters’ monumental hits, “You Brought the Sunshine,” for her third studio album “Priceless” in 2003. With production by Warryn Campbell, who is also husband to Mary Mary’s Erica Campbell, this version serves as a modern take to the beloved gospel/dance classic. With The Clark Sisters featured on background and additional vocals, this cover loses none of its original luster. Kelly Price, a proud student and fan of The Clark Sisters, maintains the integrity of the distinct Clark sound. Price fits right into the mix as an honorary sister and is able to hold her own.
2. SWV’s leading lady, Coko Clemons, gathered an All-Star cast of Faith Evans, Fantasia and Lil’ Mo to step into some legendary shoes for a remake of fan favorite, “Endow Me.” Released as a single for her gospel debut Grateful in 2006, these ladies sang (and we mean SANG)! All of these ladies, who have been able to find success in both gospel and secular music, have been heavily influenced by the Clark sound. We got a chance to see these ladies in action (sans Faith Evans) with the wonderful addition of Kierra Sheard unite at BET’s Celebration of Gospel for an explosive performance that left American Idol winner Fantasia slayed in the spirit as she walked off stage. (If you’ve never seen the performance you’ve probably seen the GIF from the performance all over social media.)
3. Even the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul herself has borrowed from The Clark Sisters’ extensive catalog. Intended to be placed on her critically acclaimed Mary album, “Checkin’ for Me” uses a loop of “They Were Overcome (By the Word).” In true Mary J. Blige fashion, Mary confronts a past lover and demands better from the relationship. A true gospel that most of us can relate to, Mary fans would have probably enjoyed this song during its respective era had it been given the chance. It did not make the album cut, but fortunately it was included as a bonus track on Mary’s critically acclaimed album No More Drama, and can also be heard in all its glory on YouTube.
4. You know you have a great record when it’s been sampled more than once. Contemporary gospel artist Kierra Sheard, who has the distinct honor of being daughter to Karen Clark Sheard and niece to The Clark Sisters, also chose to sample “They Were Overcome (By the Word)” for an upbeat gospel anthem “2nd Win.” Released as the first single off her fifth studio album, Graceland, in 2014 it’s an incredibly different feel from the above mentioned. Kierra sings passionately about change and God’s unconditional love to an uplifting, feel-good beat. With J. Drew, Karen’s son, contributing to production they successfully carry on The Clark Sisters’ legacy.
5. Xscape, So So Def’s first act on the label, has always listed The Clark Sisters as being a major inspiration for their harmonies. Growing up in the church, these ladies began singing “Is My Living In Vain” way before they ever signed a deal, so it was only appropriate that they would record a studio version for their debut album, Hummin’ Comin’ at Cha.’ Under JD’s direction, the girls were able to add a hip-hop vibe to the gospel classic. Since then the cover has become an intricate part of Xscape’s live performances and is still among their set list today.
6. Gospel artist Kim Burrell has sung the many praises of The Clark Sisters over the last few decades and decided to put her own spin on Clark Sisters’ classic, “Jesus Is a Love Song.” Originally released in 1986 from the well-received Heart & Soul album and a top five out of The Clark Sisters’ catalog, this song has been covered multiple times and has become a staple within the black church. With new musical arrangements and a slight change in tempo, Kim’s version stands out. Allowing the instrumentation to follow her jazz-esque vocal stylings instead of trying to recreate the Clark sound, Kim makes the song her own.
7. In 2016, The Clark Sisters were finally honored on a large platform at Essence Fest. The who’s-who of gospel music showed up and showed out for this long overdue moment to pay tribute to the legendary Clark Sisters. One of the most beautiful and unexpected moments of the night occurred when singers Keyondra Lockett, Christina Bell, Candy West, Latice Crawford and Alexis Spight took stage to sing “For the Love of the People.” One of the standout tracks off of the 1988 Conqueror album, “For the Love of the People,” showcases the magnitude of The Clark Sisters’ harmony. These women who were called upon to tribute the group did not disappoint in the slightest bit. All of them are young enough to have grown up listening to the Clark Sister’s music, and their presence is a visual representation of how strong The Clark Sisters’ influence truly is.
8. The Walls Group, one of the most popular and vocally revered groups in gospel music today, took to their personal YouTube channel to pay homage to The Clark Sisters. Before any note is sang, the Walls Group credits The Clark Sisters as being their “favorite group,” so you already know it’s about to go down. Stepping away from frequently covered Clark Sisters’ material, the Walls Group delivers a soul stirring version of “Pure Gold” right at home from their living room. In perfect pitch and harmony, you can see and hear that the Walls Group holds this song near and dear to their hearts.
9. The scope of The Clark Sisters’ influence is boundless, as their music has crossed genre boundaries. JAY-Z (arguably the best rapper alive) recently borrowed from The Clark Sisters’ original, “Ha-ya (Eternal Life),’ for his song “Family Feud” off his critically acclaimed album, 4:44. On the track, Jay is candid about his marital woes to the “First Lady of Music” Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. Produced by the legendary No I.D., this song is built off a sample of The Clark Sisters’ vocals with Beyoncé recreating the vocal runs and riffs previously made famous by Twinkie, Jackie, Karen and Dorinda. Karen even took to her Instagram account to show her appreciation saying, “Who would’ve thought this phenomenal artist would use our songs. Thank you Jay Z & Beyoncé.”
10. Now if only Wendy Williams would have done her research, she would have known that The Clark Sisters are on Snoop Dogg’s No. 1 gospel album, and are featured multiple times. Snoop Dogg himself has even stated that before he began rapping, he was singing in the church choir and is very familiar with The Clark Sisters’ music. On his new LP Bible of Love, Snoop remixes the Grammy Award-winning “Blessed & Highly Favored.” Originally a part of their long awaited reunion album, Live – One Last Time, Snoop updated this jam with a trap-inspired beat the young generation can appreciate that accompanies the timeless vocals of The Clark Sisters.