Karen Clark Sheard: Faith & Family
Published On October 2, 2013 | Style Issue '13
Karen Clark Sheard is synonymous with gospel music. As a member of the iconic Gospel group, The Clark Sisters, Sheard and her sisters are credited with helping to bring contemporary Christian music to mainstream listeners, and inspiring a new generation of singers and performers beyond Gospel circles. The four-time Grammy Award winner, the daughter of gospel pioneer Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, who has found success in a group and as a solo artist, remains grounded in two things: faith and family.
Just days before the live recording of her sixth album, Karen Clark Sheard spoke to Rags N Riches Magazine about the new project, reuniting with producer Donald Lawrence, her role as a wife to Bishop J. Drew Sheard and mother to Kierra “KiKi” Sheard and J. Drew, and the possibility of new Clark Sisters album.
Montè: You’re recording your sixth album live from Chicago.
KCS: Yes, I’m excited about coming to Chicago. First of all, Chicago has been so supportive of our family over the years. I can go back to my mother, Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, years back when we started coming here when I was a teenager and a little girl. I’ll never forget being on stage with James Cleveland, and those were just memorable moments. So, Chicago is like a second home for me because it’s not too far away from where I live in Detroit, Michigan, and I just wanted to come back and give back for all the love they’ve given my family— my mother, my sisters, The Clark Sisters, my daughter— all of us over the years. I’m just excited about coming here.
Montè: Donald Lawrence is producing this project?
Montè: What inspired that reconnection?
KCS: For me, it’s almost like I missed him. And, not taking anything away from any of the other producers, but Donald is just like my greatest experience in my solo career. My first solo project, “Finally Karen,” went gold, and it’s almost like whatever Donald Lawrence’s hands touch turns to gold. [Laughs].
I’m really glad to be with him again because he makes it easy for me. And in more ways than one, Donald has just contributed so much to my career. Just like the business, he’s shared with me and opened my mind to a lot of things, a lot of the ways the business has changed, and a lot of times he was my consultant. Donald was in this [business] even before he came to Gospel music, and I don’t think a lot of people realize that. He’s just always been so phenomenal in everything he does. He keeps me in line, and that’s what I need because sometimes I’m just like a wayward child. [Laughs]. Sometimes. But Donald knows me— he actually knows the sisters, period—because he’s been a supporter. He likes to say that he’s a fan down through the years. [Laughs]. But he knows us. And coming back with Donald is just amazing to me. He’s a trendsetter, and I love that he collabs with what we are. When I say “we are,” I mean the Clark Sisters, in regards to the ministry aspect of it. Donald is all about supporting whatever the dream is, but making a message with it and not just making the same old thing. It’s like having a preacher that comes every Sunday and preaches the same old thing, people eventually are going to get tired of that. And what Donald does, he takes whatever I have and he’ll make it current, and that’s what he’s done even with the Clark Sisters.
And then with me, he has really, really kept me to where, and not only kept me stabilized, but kept me to where I’m motivated and pushed me to walk into a calling where God has me now. So, yeah, he’s the man right now. [Laughs].
Montè: That’s quite an endorsement.
KCS: I hope I cleared it up. [Laughs].
Montè: The new album is live. Do you prefer recording live or studio sessions?
KCS: I think I do prefer live recordings. People might not know this, but I was the first one in Gospel that recorded an album half live and half studio. I’ll never forget Donnie McClurkin said to me, “I got that that from you. Half my record is live and the other half is studio.” I was so honored that he even said that to me, you know?
I wanted to do that on my first one [“Finally Karen”] because I think people should get both sides of me. A lot of people— well now you can make live sound like in studio, so they’re just doing thing differently now. [Laughs]. —but back then, I had to kind of divide it and do it half and half. I tried to always be the kind of artist that can be versatile. I’m the type of artist that takes risks a lot of the time. And when I said ‘do live’ that was a risk I was taking because you can do in the studio, mess up and fix things. But live, you got to remain focused. It’s a whole other thing—so it makes me disciplined and that’s what I need. It prepares me for ministry and for what I want people to feel, church outside of the CD.
Montè: Are any guest appearances or surprises on the album?
KCS: Well, we’re trying to get one of the artists to come in. I don’t want to call her name—well we can call her name because we’re doing one of her songs on the set. “Only Call on Jesus,” written by Missy Elliott, so we’re trying to get her to collab with me.
Montè: Wow. That’s huge.
Montè: Over the years, you’ve performed in front of all kinds of audiences. Do you still get nervous?
KCS: I get nervous every time I get up. Every time. I know it sounds unbelievable, but I am like jittery. I thought at one time that maybe when I got older it would pass, but uh-uh. I still get nervous, my stomach still gets jittery. And my husband always said that when you feel like that it means that you’re coming out of yourself and you’re giving your whole body, mind and soul to God. Allow Him to take over. And ever since he laid that out to me, I’ve said that’s absolutely where I wanted to be. I just want to have Him take over. But, yeah, I do get nervous, I’m just really shaky. [Laughs]. But when the anointing hits, it’s like okay, I’m riding with the anointing now.
Montè: It’s good to hear that even at this stage of your career that you still get jittery and nervous.
KCS: Yes, I do.
Montè: You and your sisters have inspired so many artists over the years. Which artists inspire you?
KCS: I would say Aretha Franklin has inspired me in so many ways. First of all, just hearing what people call her, “The Queen of Soul.” She has been that one that when I was little girl that I’ve always admired. Even when I got into singing, I would say there’s something about that woman. I didn’t even know that she came out of the church back then because I was a child. But when I started growing up and reading about her and learning more about who she was, I learned that she came out of the church. I would say to myself, ‘Oh, that’s what it is.’ I can tap into her roots because we have the same roots. I mean, she sings soulfully and then you listen to her records and she’s very powerful. The gift that God gave her is amazing to me. She knows how to deliver— her delivery is very unique, very different, I should say. She’s another one that knows how to stay current but it doesn’t take away from who she is. She is that one who I admired throughout the years.
Montè: A while back I read that you may have a role in her rumored biopic. Any truth to that rumor?
KCS: Yes, there is truth to that. I was asked by Aretha, Ms. Aretha. First of all, I had to put the phone down because I couldn’t believe that she would ask me. She had been calling me for a lot of her gospel programs that she does because she lives in Detroit. She calls me and I’ve been praying with her and letting her know that it’s not all about me just loving on her gift, but just loving her as a person. But yeah, that’s true. She called me, asked me and said, “You know they want to bring all these other actresses in here, but I said no! I want her. Y’all going to train her!’’ [Laughs]. So, yeah, actually her idea was to have me play one of her parts in church.
Montè: Sounds good.
Montè: Let’s talk about “The Sheards.” The BET docu-series follows you and your family as you all balance being in the limelight as Gospel royalty but also deals with everyday situations. There aren’t many reality shows centered around Gospel artists that are entertaining but you managed to be entertaining without going overboard. Will there be another season?
KCS: There will be a season two. We just got a call for that so we’re happy and will be recording that soon.
Montè: How was the experience?
KCS: It was a great experience. And I’m going to tell you why it was a great experience in more ways than one. Beyond the negativity of what some of the church people can deal with and have said, because at the end of the day that’s all they’re going to be. Church people, and that’s about it. It was a great experience to me because we tapped into a whole ‘nother audience. And when I say whole ‘nother audience, I’m talking about people who don’t even know church. People who don’t go to church. They’re looking at us saying, “Wow! These people are really standing for Holy.” I’m talking about people who said stuff like, “Oh, ain’t nothing to all that church stuff” and this and that. I hear people say, “You all live the life and stand for what you believe in, and not just say you do and then you’re doing something totally different behind closed doors.” Because sometimes that’s the excuse people use to not come to church, I’m talking about non-church people.
It gave us the opportunity to tap into a whole ‘nother audience so that they can see how we deal with situations as a Godly family without fighting, without cussin’ folk out, but dealing with the situations. They can see a human side of us and they can know that we can remain Godly and that we can remain Christians even when we have setbacks and even when we have differences in the family.
So, I’m glad that people were able to see it, and I’m glad that BET even allowed us to open that door because like we’re talking about me being on stage and being in church, but this takes me—this just took us over. Even my husband is like, “I gotta get used to this”’ See, ‘cause he wasn’t used to the cameras, he wasn’t used to be people walking up to him saying, “Oh, you’re on “The Sheards”!” [Laughs]. He’s like this is a whole ‘nother life to me because he’s not used to the public, you know. He’s always wanted to be in the background. So this has really opened up a lot of doors for us.
And then to hear families being encouraged, especially people in the church, families in the church. Pastors call my husband to consult with him about different situations, so it was a great opportunity to tap into other parts of the world that we could minister to.
Montè: Watching the show, you get a sense of how centered your children, Kierra and J. Drew, are.