Detroit’s First Ladies of Gospel Tell Their Story in Lifetime Biopic

Helmed by a homegrown, African-American director, “The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel” tells the story of the Grammy Award-winning, highest-selling female gospel group of all-time.

The highest-selling female gospel group of all-time, Detroit’s own Clark Sisters helped modernize the genre. 

Now the story of sisters is reaching a national audience with the April 11th premiere of their biopic, The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel,” on Lifetime.

The group helped modernize gospel in a way that still influences pop music today. Listen to a song by the Clark Sisters that was sampled on Jay-Z’s “Family Feud” featuring Beyonce, below.

Courtesy of Lifetime TV
Courtesy of Lifetime TV

Their synchronized melodies and intricate vocal blends sounded like one voice but were actually five: Twinkie, Karen, Dorinda, Denise and Jacky. Their biggest hit was the reggae-infused “You Brought the Sunshine,” a non-traditional gospel song that sampled Stevie Wonder’s “Master Blaster.”

In the film, actress and singer Kierra Sheard accepted the unique challenge of portraying her own mother, Karen Clark Sheard, the dynamic soprano voice of the Clark Sisters.

“It makes me feel good that she feels like I told her story in a good way,” says Sheard, who also sings her mother’s vocal parts in the biopic. “They were big shoes to fill.

Click the player to listen to actress and singer Kierra Sheard talk about the emotional challenge of portraying her mother in the film.

Directed by Detroit-native Christine Swanson and executive produced by Missy Elliott, Queen Latifah and Mary J. Blige, the film dives into the sisters’ story of loss, rejection, abuse, sibling rivalries, endurance and their rise to fame in the gospel music industry under the guidance of their mother Dr. Mattie Moss Clark.

Sheard had the unique challenge of portraying her mother at one of the lowest points of her life when she entered the hospital for a routine procedure and nearly never left after complications threatened her life. 

“That’s the one part of the movie that I never asked her about” when studying her for this role, Sheard says. “I didn’t want her to have to relive it. Honestly, I didn’t want to have to relive it. It was the most traumatizing time of my entire life. [When she pulled through], the doctors said it was nothing short of a miracle. It gives me goosebumps talking about it to this day. It was an unreal situation.”

“The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel” will premiere April 11, 2020 at 8:00 p.m. on Lifetime.

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