Lifetime raises the rafters with ‘The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel’

‘The Clark Sisters’ – Come for the music, stay for the story

Angela Birchett, Sheléa Frazier, Kierra Sheard and Raven Goodwin star in “The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel” Saturday on Lifetime.

Anyone who is a fan of spectacular vocals in general and gospel music in particular will want to check out “The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel.”

Premiering Saturday, April 11, on Lifetime, the two-hour biopic from executive producers Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott, Loretha Jones and Holly Carter tells the authorized story of the Clark Sisters – Jacky (Angela Birchett, “Blindspot”), Denise (Raven Goodwin, “Being Mary Jane”), Karen (Kierra Sheard, “Blessed and Cursed”), Twinkie (newcomer Christina Bell) and Dorinda (newcomer Sheléa Frazier) – who under the direction of their strict mother, Dr. Mattie Moss Clark (Aunjanue Ellis, “Quantico”), became the highest-selling female gospel group in history, with three Grammy Awards and millions in sales to their credit in a career spanning the 1960s through present day.

In addition to bringing the story to life, the biggest challenge for the producers was finding actresses who could sing the demanding music and from the opening minutes it is apparent they were successful. All five principal players can really belt it and as for whether it was more important to find actresses who can sing or singers who can act, Carter says the general sentiment was, “Let’s find actors who could sing, and if singers are acting we can, you know, kind of bring them in the process as well, let’s do that. But (the) initial vision was let’s find people that can bring the house down, and then you will really get the essence of the Clark Sisters.”

“Because if you can’t sing these songs,” Latifah adds, “then we’re a no-go.”

For this, all actresses except Ellis (whose character died in 1994) had access to the women they were playing – all of whom are now in their 60s and 70s – and Sheard knew her character well, as she was playing her mother. But she never assumed she’d get the role because of that connection.

“I auditioned and to have had her in my ears it became more of a personal thing,” she explains, “learning her story and what she’s done as a trailblazer for gospel artists, gospel music. And to see how there are even pop artists that admire what she does, it has blown me away. Trying to sing like her, I literally became lightheaded trying to hit her notes. So, it really is special, and to see the strength that they carry to this day and even along that journey it’s been really exciting.”

George Dickie

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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