The Clark Sisters

This article is about the gospel group. For the 1950s vocal group also known as "The Clark Sisters", see The Sentimentalists.
The Clark Sisters
Also known as The Dynamic Clark Sisters (1980)
Origin Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Genres Gospel, Urban Contemporary Gospel
Occupation(s) Singers
Instruments Vocals, Organ, Piano, Drums
Years active Late 1966–present
Labels Billmo, Sound Of Gospel, Westbound/Elektra, Rejoice/Word, Sparrow, EMI Gospel
Associated acts Mattie Moss Clark, Kierra "Kiki" Sheard, J Moss
Members Jacky Clark Chisholm (1966-present)
Elbernita "Twinkie" Clark-Terrell (1966-1990, 1996-present)
Dorinda Clark-Cole (1970-present)
Karen Clark Sheard (1970-present)
Past members Denise Clark Bradford (1966-1986, 2016-)

The Clark Sisters are an American gospel vocal group consisting of five sisters: Jacky Clark Chisholm (b. 1948), Denise Clark Bradford (b. 1953), Elbernita "Twinkie" Clark-Terrell (b. 1954), Dorinda Clark-Cole (b. 1957), and Karen Clark Sheard (b. 1960). The Clark Sisters are the daughters of legendary gospel musician and choral director Dr. Mattie Moss Clark. They are credited for helping to bring gospel music to the mainstream and are considered as pioneers of contemporary gospel. Their biggest crossover hits include: "Is My Living in Vain?" "Hallelujah," "He Gave Me Nothing to Lose," "Endow Me," their hit song "Jesus Is A Love Song," "Pure Gold," "Expect a Miracle," and their largest mainstream crossover gold certified, "You Brought the Sunshine." The Clark Sisters have won two[1] Grammy Awards. With 16 albums to their credit and millions in sales, the Clark Sisters are the highest-selling female gospel group in history.

The Clark Sisters were honored at the 2016 Essence Music Festival. During their speech Karen said that all 5 sisters (including Denise) will reunite and sing together again.[2]


The early years

The Clark Sisters were born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. They each began singing at an early age, and by the late 1960s they were all performing together in church services, usually singing songs written and arranged by their mother. A few years later, Dr. Mattie Moss Clark turned over control of the group to Twinkie, who would then go on to write, arrange, conduct, and produce all of the Clark Sisters' recordings. In 1973, the sisters recorded their first album, Jesus Has A Lot To Give, on their uncle's local label Billesse Records.[3]

The following year, Dr. Mattie Moss Clark Presents The Clark Sisters was released and people around Detroit began to take notice of the group. The Clark Sisters signed to Sound of Gospel Records in 1974. Under this association, the group released albums such as Unworthy, Count It All Joy, and He Gave Me Nothing to Lose. It was not until the early 1980s that The Clark Sisters began to become more widely known. Their popularity soared with the release of the live recording Is My Living In Vain. The first live recording by The Clark Sisters spent an entire year at number one on Billboard's Gospel Music chart. Opening with the bluesy title track, each sister vocally declares that their dedication to Christ is not a useless effort. The innovative "Hi ya" was funky enough to find its way into a Tonex produced track over two decades later. Karen Clark's lead on "Speak Lord" expresses deep faith while the call to worship is raised on "Now Is The Time". Another hit from this release, "Expect Your Miracle", is still a staple in black churches across the country.[4]

Their next release You Brought the Sunshine would prove to be a monster hit via the title track. Reminiscent of Stevie Wonder's "Master Blaster (Jammin')," the song became a hit in church houses and on dance floors, including New York's Studio 54.[5] "Sunshine" was picked up from its original independent gospel record label Sounds of Gospel and distributed by both Westbound Records and Elektra Records. In 1983, the song peaked at #16 on the Black Singles chart, #27 on the Club Play Charts, and #80 on the Hot R&B Charts[6] driving the album to Gold sales. This album continues to display Twinkie's signature blend of scripture with unprecedented vocal and musical arrangements on biblically based songs like "Psalms 31." The album's other songs include the sincere prayer found within the lyrics of both "Center of Thy Will" and "Endow Me," featuring a young but already vocally mature Karen, as well as "Overdose of the Holy Ghost", showcasing Dorinda's vocal dexterity. The disco-inspired "He Keeps Me Company" is noted for its bubbly syncopation.[4]

The sisters delivered another progressive effort in 1982, Sincerely, which included "Name It And Claim It" and the politically charged "World." Though its success was overshadowed by the previous hit "You Brought The Sunshine", the album received a Grammy nomination.[4]


In 1983, the Clark Sisters were invited to perform at the Grammy Awards. It proved to be one of the highlights of the annual awards ceremony, but the church did not approve of it. The church told their mother, Mattie Moss Clark, that she could not perform with her girls again.

More success

After a four-year gap between releases, the sisters continued as a foursome, signing with Rejoice Records, a division of Word. This new deal yielded the Grammy-nominated Heart & Soul (1986) featuring the mainstream single "Time Out". This project made a top 5 debut on Billboard's Gospel Charts and garnered the group a coveted Dove Award. It featured the original versions of "Jesus Is A Love Song", "Balm in Gilead", and "Pray for the USA", which has been re-recorded several times. The music took on a more contemporary sound with programmed drums and synthesizers. Also included on this album were "Smile, God Loves You", "Time Out", "I Am Blessed", and the funky "He’ll Turn Your Scars Into Stars."[4]

In 1988, The Clark Sisters released their Billboard chart-topping and critically acclaimed album Conqueror. It featured a bolder, more intense sound, with synthesizers, drum machines and more funk-oriented beats. Conqueror quickly became a fan favorite with hits like "The Darkest Hour Is Just Before The Day" and the original studio version of "Jesus Forevermore".[4]

In 1989, The Clark Sisters released their highly anticipated live album, Bringing it Back Home, recorded in their home town of Detroit. It was the last recording from The Clark Sisters on Word Records’ Rejoice imprint and the last group album with Twinkie just before the launch of her solo career. The album included both previous hits and new material. It featured guest appearances from gospel icon Rance Allen and backing choir vocals from The Michigan State Choir directed by Dr. Mattie Moss Clark.[4]

In 1994, the Clark Sisters released their last studio album before breaking grounds into their successful solo careers. Their last studio album of the decade, Miracle, was the first album The Clark Sisters recorded without the songwriting and vocals of Twinkie Clark. Produced by BeBe Winans & Michael J. Powell, this disc features a very pop version of the Clark Sisters classic "Expect A Miracle" (now titled "Miracle") and a remake of the classic "Jesus Is The Best Thing". Dorinda made her songwriting debut on a Clark Sisters recording with "Work To Do". That album, although it fared well in sales, did not match the success of previous albums due to the Clark Sisters not being able to tour and promote the project, due to the illness of their mother, Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, who died in September 1994 from diabetes complications.[4]

Emerging solo artists

Following their last Word Records release, Twinkie resumed her calling as a minister and recorded the independent solo album Comin' Home in 1992. Twinkie Clark re-appeared in 1996 with a pair of albums to her credit: the solo studio release The Masterpiece for Ben Tankard's Tribute Records label and the live project Twinkie Clark-Terrell presents FAMU Gospel Choir.

Karen delivered her solo debut Finally Karen in 1997. The album, featuring star turns from The Clark Sisters, Faith Evans, and daughter Kierra Sheard, was nominated for a Grammy in addition to winning a Soul Train Lady of Soul award. She has since released four more solo albums: 2nd Chance, The Heavens Are Telling, It's Not Over and All in One. Dorinda released her first solo album, Dorinda Clark-Cole in 2002, earning her two Stellar awards, and a Soul Train Lady of Soul award. Dorinda has since released two more solo albums: Live in Houston and Take It Back, each of which have earned Dorinda the award for Female Vocalist of the Year at the Stellar Awards. Dorinda also in 2011 released solo album "I Survived". Jacky released her first solo effort, Expectancy, in 2005, which features The Clark Sisters on the track "Blessing Me." The Clark Sisters have all contributed in various capacities to each other's albums, whether they sang or wrote lyrics.

The sisters' reunion

More recently, The Clark Sisters did a live recording on July 8, 2006 in Houston, Texas entitled Live... One Last Time. The recording was directed and produced by Donald Lawrence and was released as a CD on April 10, 2007[7] on EMI Gospel, followed by a CD/DVD Special Edition release June 19, 2007. In support of the reunion album, The Clark Sisters embarked on a 25-city concert tour beginning October 4, 2007 in Nashville, Tennessee.[8]

Following the group's resurgence in popularity, Rhino Entertainment released a greatest-hits collection including material from three albums recorded for Word Records from the mid 80's through the early 90's, including the Grammy-nominated Heart & Soul. The album, Encore: The Best of The Clark Sisters, was released February 12, 2008.[9][10]

Clark sister Dorinda mentioned during an acceptance speech at the 2008 Stellar Awards that due to the overwhelming response to Live... One Last Time, the group was considering recording again and with their sister, Denise Clark Bradford.[11]

Gospel Grammy awards sweep

Though The Clark Sisters have been thrice nominated previously for the Best Soul Gospel Performance by a Duo or Group Grammy with 1983's Sincerely, 1986's Heart & Soul, and 1988's Conqueror without a win,[12] the group won three Grammys in 2008. Live - One Last Time won the Best Traditional Gospel Album. Its album track "Blessed & Highly Favored" won the Best Gospel Performance. As songwriter of "Blessed & Highly Favored," Karen Clark Sheard won the individual Best Gospel Song.[13][14]

Additionally, at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony featuring a gospel segment with Aretha Franklin, Mary J. Blige, Israel & New Breed, and Trin-i-tee 5:7, The Clark Sisters performed a snippet of their signature "You Brought The Sunshine" when the ceremony was broadcast on February 10 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA.[15] The Clark Sisters recorded a Christmas CD followed special appearances with Karen's daughter Kierra Sheard and their cousins Bill Moss Jr. and James Moss known as J Moss and produced by J Drew Sheard.

"The Clark Sound"

The Clark Sisters are renowned for their vocal stylings, dubbed as "The Clark Sound." They incorporate high and fast melismas, acrobatic trills and riffs, and deep, soulful growls, or "squalls". The sisters are also known for the individual distinctive sounds that they contribute. Jacky (contralto) is known for her soft, smooth, deeper vocals. Dorinda (mezzo-soprano), the "jazzy" sister, inputs scats and riffs. Denise, who is no longer associated with the group (soprano) is known for her high pitched singing voice. Uses her piercing soprano vocals that can be cleary heard on early tracks. Also known for her runs and high melismas. Karen (soprano) is known for her unique riffs, runs, growls, scats, very vast vocal range, ability to belt whilst in the whistle range, and has also been known to implement an "echo" in her live performances. Twinkie is known for her complex runs, riffs, powerful mixed-voice belts, soulful squalls and deep growls. Twinkie (Soprano/Mezzo-Soprano/Alto/Contralto/Tenor/Baritone) is credited with being the "heart of the Clark Sisters." Early in the group's development, Twinkie was the chief songwriter, music and vocal arranger, producer, and also possessing a wide vocal range from soprano to a low baritone.

There is no single lead vocalist in the group. Jacky leads songs such as "Wonderful Counselor," "I've Got An Angel," and "So Much Joy", and "God Understands All". Dorinda leads "Overdose of the Holy Ghost," "Time Out" and "My Redeemer Liveth", "I Won't Let Go 'Til You Bless My Soul", "Determination", "Looking To Get There (Heaven)", and "Sanctify Me Lord". Karen sings lead on "A Praying Spirit", "Hallelujah," "Endow Me," and the Grammy-winning "Blessed and Highly Favored." Twinkie leads on "Nothing to Lose", "Pray for the USA," "I've Got The Victory", and their biggest hit "You Brought The Sunshine." Denise sings lead on "Something Worth Living For", "Count It All Joy", and "Christ Is Born Today."

The group's sound and success have been highly influential on the contemporary genre of gospel music.[16]




Year Singles Chart Positions Album
US Gospel US R&B Hot Dance Club
1973 "Jesus Has A Lot To Give" 20 - - Jesus Has A Lot to Give
1980 "Is My Living In Vain" 1 - - Is My Living In Vain
1982 "Name It Claim It" 2 - - Sincerely
"World" - - 8
1983 "You Brought the Sunshine (Into My Life)" 8 16 27 You Brought the Sunshine
1986 "Time Out" 1 - 43 Heart & Soul
"Jesus is a Love Song" - 105 -
"Pray for the U.S.A." - - -
1991 "My Redeemer Liveth" - - - Bringing It Back Home
"Hallelujah" - - -
2007 "Blessed & Highly Favored" 1 - - Live: One Last Time
"Livin'" 2 117 -
2008 "Looking To Get There (Heaven)" - - -
"Something New" - - -
2009 "Instrument (Re-issue live)" - - -

Other appearances



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