'The Clark Sisters' was Mattie Moss Clark's idea but bringing gospel music to mainstream was her biggest gift
Lifetime's biopic, 'The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel', essays the role of Mattie Moss Clark and her daughters who are known as the first ladies of gospel
This Saturday, just in time for Easter, Lifetime aired its biopic on the Clark Sisters, an American gospel vocal group consisting of five sisters: Jacky Clark Chisholm, Denise "Niecy" Clark Bradford, Elbernita "Twinkie" Clark, Dorinda Clark-Cole and Karen Clark Sheard. The Clark Sisters are credited with bringing gospel music to the mainstream and are considered to be the pioneers of contemporary gospel.
It was the sisters' mother, Dr Mattie Moss Clark — gospel musician and choral director — who created the Clark Sisters in 1973 leading to the sisters recording their first album. But Mattie did much more than that. She is credited for creating the three-part harmony — separating vocal parts into soprano, alto and tenor — a technique which is prevalent among gospel churches today.
In Lifetime's biopic, 'The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel', the role of Mattie Moss Clark is played by Aunjanue Ellis who declares, “I’m gonna make you stars for Jesus,” as her central role in the Clark Sisters' success becomes clear. Mama Mattie is the driving force behind the Clark Sisters, for the group's formation and after.
Even when her abusive husband tells her she doesn't wear ambition well when she is removed from the board of her congregation for singing at the Grammys with her daughter and even when her daughters remain doubtful of how far they can go, Mattie powers through to forever change gospel music.
Mattie's tryst with music began long before she became an adult. At the age of six, she began playing the piano. At 12, she became the musician for her mother's services at the Church of Christ and Prayer and traveled with her mother to play at mission services.
After high school, Mattie attended Selma University in Alabama where she studied classical music and choral singing. In the early 1940s, Mattie relocated to Detroit, Michigan, where her sister Sybil Burke lived. There, Mattie became a member of The Greater Love Tabernacle Church of God in Christ where she was baptized with the Holy Ghost and subsequently became the Minister of Music. She would go on to serve historic tenure as Minister of Music for both Southwest Michigan Jurisdiction and Bailey Temple Church of God in Christ, under Bishop John Seth Bailey. Soon, she was in demand to train choirs at churches throughout the brotherhood of COGIC throughout the United States.
In 1958, she recorded "Going to Heaven to Meet the King", with the Southwest Michigan State Choir, becoming the first person to commit the sounds of a choir to record. Mattie received three gold albums with the Southwest Michigan State Choir and went on to write and arrange hundreds of songs and recorded over 50 albums.
Mattie also directed the Cadillac Motor Company's Christmas choir for 11 years and conducted community-wide mass choirs for the prestigious NAACP Freedom Fund Dinners. Bishop JO Patterson appointed Mattie as the International President of the Music Department in 1968. Mattie's tenure as a choral director saw her working to instill within musicians and choirs a responsibility to Christ as well as the capability for Jesus.
After the Clark Sisters' success, Mattie founded The Clark Conservatory of Music in Detroit, which became one of the most prestigious schools of its kind in America. In 1981, she was conferred with the degree of Doctor of Humanity by Trinity College in Ambridge, Pennsylvania.
Later, Mattie passed all responsibility of managing the Clark Sisters to her daughter, Twinkie, who became the leader of the group. Even as she became less active in her daughters' career, she remained frequently supportive, even attending and performing with her daughters at the 1983 Grammy Awards.
After Bishop Bailey's death in 1985, she continued as the State Minister of Music of the COGIC Southwest Michigan Jurisdiction #1. Mattie was also one of the editors and contributors to the hymnal published by the Church of God in Christ entitled, 'Yes, Lord'.
Mattie revolutionized the music departments and traveled year-round to every state in America conducting workshops, rehearsals and musicals to prepare choirs for service on the National Church level. Moreover, she organized the structure of the National Music Convention of the Church of God in Christ.
Mattie's efforts helped uplift many young people, who were inspired by her music and the message she passed through it. She introduced 'A Star is Born', a program where new talent was introduced before thousands in the faith. Even with failing health, Mattie continued to record music into the last year of her life. She succumbed to complications from diabetes in September of 1994, at the age of 69.