Karen Clark Sheard expands gospel music’s reach with performance at the Essence Music FestivalBy Chevel Johnson, AP
Saturday, July 3, 2010
Karen Clark Sheard: It’s gospel music’s time
NEW ORLEANS — There’s not a time in her life when gospel artist Karen Clark Sheard can remember not singing.
And now that gospel music increasingly is finding its way onto urban radio and into homes through TV talent shows like BET’s “Sunday’s Best” and the Gospel Music Channel’s “Gospel Dream,” the Grammy Award-winning vocalist says there’s never been a better time than now to bring such good news to the masses.
“This is a great day for gospel music,” said Sheard, who has enthralled audiences with her multi-octave voice for decades and shows no sign of stopping. “There were days when it was not played on the radio. Now, it’s being accepted on R&B stations, allowing us to deliver the message of my God to everyone.”
Sheard, 49, said she views her singing as a ministry.
“I could not have done this without knowing the person we sing about,” she said. “I definitely can look back on my life and my struggles and say, ‘God can bring you out and give you favor when doors have been shut.’ That’s what motivates me to believe.”
Sheard said her mother, Mattie Moss Clark, instilled such teachings in her when she was a child and, each time she takes a microphone, she hopes those teachings shine through.
“It’s in my upbringing. I was taught that you’re not just out there singing, but you’re using your gift to help people know that there’s hope in the world,” she said.
And doing that is nothing new for Sheard.
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 that mission continues when they perform in New Orleans on Sunday — the final day of the Essence Music Festival’s annual “party with a purpose.”
“It’s been years since we were last at the festival and to be asked to return, I think, encourages us to know that we haven’t been forgotten,” she said.
The group is participating in a tribute to gospel music legend, Pastor Shirley Caesar.
“To be a part of an event put on by Essence, which has been such a force in so many women’s lives, with such women of power and women of great character, is amazing for me,” she said.
Sheard said as she moves into another phase of her life she realizes that being of help and impacting other people’s lives is key.
“You must be a blessing to others and this is absolutely an extension of and a part of what we do. Being able to tap into audiences that may not have heard of The Clark Sisters or that may not listen to gospel music is just great. God always has divine timing when there’s a purpose that must be fulfilled. And this is our time to bless somebody’s life.”
Sheard said she always enjoys singing with her sisters and expects Sunday’s performance to reflect that.
“It’s comfortable there, surrounded by my sisters,” she said, laughing. “All the weight of the performance is not on me. As a solo artist, there’s a lot of mental stress you have to deal with. Not so when I’m with my family.”
And though her latest release, “All in One,” is a solo effort, Sheard said she doesn’t feel like she’s alone.
The record, released in April, was produced with her husband, J. Drew Sheard, on their own label — Karew Records — and features stellar vocals from her daughter Kierra “Kiki” Sheard, son J. Drew Sheard II, sister Dorinda Clark Cole, niece Angel Chisholm and cousin J. Moss.
“This album definitely gives you a glimpse of who I really am,” she said. “I’m an artist but I’m also a mother, a wife, a sister. And I’m very adamant about spending quality time with family. This album reflects that.”
This year, Sheard won over some new fans as she broke into musical theater. Cast in the stage play, “Church Girl,” Sheard said the role is yet another way to spread messages of survival and triumph.
“This is another way for me to deliver what I do to people who don’t go to church,” Sheard said.
“When I was asked to play the part of the church girl’s aunt, I immediately thought of my nieces and nephews, some of whom have strayed and every now and then I have to go after them.”
Sheard said more acting also is in her future. “I have an upcoming role in a movie about Aretha Franklin’s life. It was an honor to be asked,” she said, but wouldn’t give any more details.
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