Made Of Shade

Karen Clark Sheard Talks Live Album and Life

The anointing within the voice of Karen Clark Sheard is superb enough to ignite warmth in the soul of her listeners. Even on a dreary day, filled with troublesome clouds, the amazing artist is smiling and at her very best vocally. One only has to be in her company for a few minutes to feel her sincere love of God and the music she so graciously shares with the world.

Sheard is no amateur in the business. She and her sisters, The Clark Sisters, are part of  gospel royalty. During the ’70s and ’80s, The Clark Sisters changed the direction of gospel music by recording songs that had more flair and hip vibe than most of the gospel music of that time. The siblings’ “You Brought the Sunshine” became a crossover hit. Pizzazz and glitz aside, the star serves as first lady of Greater Emmanuel Institutional Church of God and Christ.

The gospel pioneer recently gave a superior live performance in Chicago’s House of Hope Church for the making of her yet-to-be titled live album, set for release early next year.

In this edition of MADE OF SHADE, the four-time Grammy Award winner Clark Sheard joins me to speak exclusively about her live album. She also shares her thoughts on conservative gospel critics, influencing other recording artists and a few other surprises.

Quassan: You always bring forth music that carries such warmth and electrifies the spirit. Yolanda Adams doesn’t just sing on her CD Live on Washington, she sangs! I think the recording of a live album simply amplifies the experience for the listener when someone like Karen Clark Sheard or Yolanda Adams is behind the music. What can we expect from your fabulous new live album?

KCS: You can expect me to bring an experience that can be tapped into on a deep level. Each song is an anthem for all of the issues people go through in life. If a person doesn’t attend church, my live album will bring church to the home. I want to continue to give people a great experience when they listen to my music. I think you’ll find that experience on this live CD.

Quassan: Are the songs on the forthcoming live album new songs or past favorites?

KCS: Just a couple of past favorite songs are on the live album. The majority of the songs are new. Donald Lawrence is such a phenomenal producer and trendsetter. Donald will take some of the past favorite songs and make the songs current and up-to-date. The message will not be lost in the updating of the song, that’s really a true testament to how fabulous Donald is.

Quassan: Many conservatives in the gospel music world became concerned when gospel artists began recording gospel music with a secular vibe. I actually became more of a listener when that shift took place. You and The Clark Sisters are one of the first to take gospel music and make the sound into a vibe that secular music lovers could enjoy. 

KCS: We gave some of the critics something to speak about because the Clark Sisters’ music crossed over. “You Brought The Sunshine” became the center of critique because the song is a song you can dance to. I believe the move to reshape the music was part of God’s doing. Many people in the world don’t go to church, but they will listen to the gospel song on the secular radio and say, “I love that beat.”

We’re telling the world about Jesus.  People were dancing in the clubs to “You Brought The Sunshine” and understood the song is about Jesus.  I am open to bring the message in whatever direction God inspires me to bring His message, so the world can understand who Jesus is.  My passion to bring the message moves past what any church folk have to say about the music. If God opens the door for me to walk through, I’m going to walk through the door.

Quassan: You’re not only a recording artist, but you’re also owner of Karew record label, star of a television show, first lady of a highly attended church, a mom along with many other titles and responsibilities. Is it hard being Karen Clark Sheard and how do you manage to handle so many awesome projects without losing your sanity?

KCS: [Laughs] That’s a good one! Sometimes I do feel like I’m losing my sanity. [Laughs] Actually, life has ups and downs though being Karen Clark Sheard has advantages. Even the disadvantages make me who I am. My trials prepare me to be the person who God called me to be. God said to me if you were the regular Karen Clark Sheard, I could not use you because the enemy tried to turn you against my will. God made me to be endowed with creativity.

A lot of my experiences I have bring out the songwriter in me; as a result I can impact lives.  When God brings me out of my challenges, I can bring someone out of something they are going through. All of the hats I wear go along with the advantages and disadvantages. I do get frustrated because I have to take off one hat and put on another, but I am happy doing the work God called me to do. As first lady, I have to take off the artist hat and reach the people in my church. I have to be reachable. I have to move away from that place of being put on a pedestal as an artist and be what God called me to be for the church. I enjoy every bit of it!

Quassan: One can listen to Faith Evans’ music and know she’s been heavily influenced by your work. Beyonce has noted you and The Clark sisters as one of her favorites. When your mom, Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, was training you and your sisters as young girls to sing gospel, did you ever fathom you would become such a respected gospel legend, influencing so many other singers?

KCS: I knew God was preparing us for something, but I did not expect success of this magnitude. The respect we get from great people such as Faith Evans is unbelievable. I have respect for the awesome woman Faith is now. To hear she and Beyonce say they listen to our music is amazing. People of their caliber have watched us over the years. I’m just so thankful God used us to inspire and influence many of the artists today.

Quassan: Family relationships can be challenging outside of work environments. I can imagine it might be more of a challenge to work with family. Was it a challenge to travel and work with your sisters, as the Clark Sisters, as oppose to singing with non-family? 

KCS: It was mixed emotions.  It was easy for us to work together because of the family familiarity, but it was also hard because we had some differences. We know how to have disagreements and then let it go, that’s what made working with family easier.

My sisters and I look at those challenging times now and we really laugh. Even when we have challenges now, we are able to look at the challenges and move past the disagreement. I would much rather work with my family.

Quassan: When you need strength and motivation, what scriptures do you read?

KCS: Proverbs 3:6,which is, “In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths” Also Psalm 34, which is, “I will bless the Lord at all times: His praise shall continually be in my mouth.”

Quassan Castro is a news and entertainment journalist. Follow him on twitter @Quassan.