The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel, from executive producers and Grammy Award winners Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige and Missy Elliott, premieres Today April 11 at 8/7c. and it recounts the story of the highest-selling female gospel group in history.
Filmmaker Christine Swanson believed she was the right person to direct the film about the Clark Sisters, the highest-selling female gospel group in history from Detroit.
“There is this great and rich history of high caliber, award-winning music that comes out of Detroit,” said Swanson, director of “The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel,” which airs Saturday on Lifetime.
An NAACP Image Awards nominee, Swanson is an alumna of Shrine Catholic High School in Royal Oak, the University of Notre Dame, and the New York University Tisch School of the Arts (Oscar-winning filmmaker Spike Lee was her directing professor at Tisch). She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and four children.
“As a filmmaker who comes from Detroit, I just felt like if anybody told this story, it had to be me,” said Swanson. “I had the attributes to properly frame this story in a way it needed to be framed and heard. As a director, I made the decision to cast real singers to play the sisters.”
The Clark Sisters – Jacky Clark Chisholm, Denise Clark Bradford, Elbernita “Twinkie” Clark-Terrell, Dorinda Clark-Cole, and Karen Clark Sheard – began performing in the mid-late 1960s. They’re the daughters of the late Dr. Mattie Moss Clark (played in the movie by Aunjanue Ellis, “The Help”), a gospel musician and choral director who forged her daughters into a gospel group.
Their first album was 1973’s “Jesus Has a Lot to Give.” With 17 albums to their name, they played a large role in bringing gospel music into the mainstream, and they’re considered pioneers of contemporary gospel. Mattie is credited for creating the three-part harmony (separating vocal parts into soprano, alto and tenor), prevalent among today’s gospel choirs.
A movie about the Clark Sisters was in development limbo for 15 years, according to Swanson. It took the efforts of Grammy-winning singers Queen Latifah, Missy Elliott and Mary J. Blige to make this movie happen. All three served as executive producers.
“Without them, I’m not sure this movie would’ve gotten made,” said Swanson. “That is the collective power of these three women coming together at this time to see this story come to fruition. I think people will revisit the Clark Sisters and understand why these women are so iconic, why other musicians at the top of their game – Jay-Z, Beyoncé, (Blige), (Elliott), (Latifah) – felt compelled to either use the Clark Sisters’ music in their own songs and/or come onboard this project as producers to make sure these women’s story is told and known.”