The African-American gospel choir, passionate however precise, appears as despite it is a irreversible fixture the the Christian music recording and performance scene. Yet during the an initial half of the twentieth century, when listeners assumed of gospel music, they likely thought of solo performers favor Mahalia Jackson. Amongst the individuals who lugged the choral sound come prominence, the name of Detroit, Michigan, choir leader Mattie Moss Clark ranks high. "She"s prefer the Bach of black color gospel choral music," gospel artist Rudy Hawkins said Jenni glen of the Michigan daily (referring to Johann Sebastian Bach, the German composer whose choral compositions are fundamental to the heritage of timeless music). Clark also composed numerous gospel standards and pioneered a brand-new gospel choir sound. Probably the many famous success of this usually underrated number was the shaping the her five daughters into the Clark Sisters—among the many influential contemporary gospel groups, and also one that has actually in turn spawned a group of new solo careers because that younger relatives.

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Clark was born Mattie Juliet Moss in Selma, Alabama, in 1925. The saturday of nine children, she was elevated in the Church of Christ and also Prayer wherein her mother, additionally named Mattie, preached, sang, and played the guitar. Numerous of Clark"s siblings were musical (one brother, bill Moss, later ended up being the leader of his own gospel group, bill Moss and the Celestials), and she started playing the piano as soon as she to be six. By period ten, she had the an abilities to companion church services led by she mother. Aiming toward a college education and learning as a music significant at Fisk university in Nashville, she took piano and voice class all v her high institution years.

Clark"s father, Fred Moss, died during the summer after she high school graduation, and she go not desire to leave her mother house alone. She enrolled in music classes in ~ Selma University and also continued to play at her mother"s church services. In 1947 she moved north come Detroit to sign up with her sister, Sybil Burke. Clark available her musical services to various congregations and attended a Baptist church because that a time, yet she felt many at house at the higher Love Tabernacle Church that God in Christ (or COGIC). The Pentecostal denomination had a strong tradition that call-and-response choral singing, sometimes including improvised elements. Clark was baptized and soon came to be the church"s minister the music, later on moving on to the same place at Detroit"s Bailey temple COGIC.

With multiple talent that included playing the piano and also organ, directing choirs, singing, and composing original music, she soon found herself in demand to train choirs at other churches in the fast-growing denomination. That caused Clark"s appointment as director of music because that the Southwest Michigan Jurisdiction that the COGIC, which activate at the church"s state headquarters in Detroit. In that position, Clark had the opportunity to type an elite choir drawn from amongst members of various churches, and also to put some of her very own musical principles into practice. The result was the Southwest Michigan State Choir, with whom Clark make a collection of recordings start with "Going to heaven to fulfill the King" in 1958. Clark"s pendant have asserted this together the first recording that a modern-day gospel choir; such recordings were certainly extremely rarely at the time. The choir went on to do a collection of recordings because that the Savoy brand in the 1960s.

Clark"s early recordings were unusual in various other respects together well. She arrangements, perhaps influenced by her classic training, replaced the unison or two-part structure of earlier gospel music v three-part setups of the music because that soprano, alto, and also tenor voice ranges—a method that remained common in gospel choir music for decades afterward. She occasionally wrote arrangements because that choir and also orchestra. And also she included to the gospel repertory an ext than 100 songs, several of which, including "Salvation Is free" and also "Save Hallelujah," became standards. In the native of gospel historian Horace Clarence Boyer, Clark "eschewed a choir v a vibrant and also aggressive sound v a fully opened throat—sometimes bring about volume that destroyed purity of tone—for a choir through close harmonies and crisp rhythms."

Along v James Cleveland, Clark is concerned as a key popularizer the the choral sound in gospel music. In the indigenous of Rev. Dr. David Hall, quoted through Alan Young in wake up Me up This Morning, "Mattie Moss Clark to be the very first lady the gospel music in terms of the huge choir style. And it was she Southwest Michigan State Choir that videotaped on the Savoy label earlier in the at an early stage "60s—the Salvation Is cost-free album, and also ‘Climbing increase the Mountain’—that really placed the huge choir sound top top the map." Clark eventually recorded more than 50 albums, largely for the Savoy, sound of Gospel, Westbound, and Capitol labels; 3 were reportedly certified together gold records, because that sales of an ext than 500,000 duplicates apiece.

Clark became something that a neighborhood institution in Detroit, directing a Christmas choral ensemble comprised of general Motors Cadillac employees and assembling a huge choir yearly to carry out at one of the most necessary events top top Detroit"s African-American calendar, the yearly NAACP freedom Fund dinner. Clark continued to breakthrough through the COGIC hierarchy, although some male church members resented her prominence and influence. She was named global president of the church"s music room in 1968 and also became state minister that music in the Southwest Michigan Jurisdiction #1 in 1985. To train new choristers and musicians Clark established the Mattie Moss Clark Conservatory of Music, quiet extant in the Detroit suburb that Ferndale. Various artists, consisting of Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Donald Vails, Esther Smith, Keith Pringle, and the Rev. Rance Allen, were influenced by Clark straight or indirectly.

Her influence showed in its pure form, however, in the sibling team the Clark Sisters. Clark had two children, Leo and also Jacqueline (Jackie) when married to a man named Cullum and four more, Elbernita (Twinkie), Denise (Niecy), Dorinda, and also Karen, by Elder Elbert Clark, her second husband. Jackie, Twinkie, Niecy, Dorinda, and also Karen Clark came to be the Clark sisters in the late 1970s and also released a series of top-selling gospel albums, slimming down to quartet size in the 1980s once Denise left the group. Clark"s perfectionist streak verified both in she occasional propensity come throw books or music at errant singers (including, according to Boyer, an assault on Twinkie Clark throughout an yes, really performance) and also in the difficult vocal ornamentation that characterized the Clark sisters style.

Clark stayed energetic together she approached senior-citizen status, traveling cross-country come train singers for the COGIC nationwide Music Convention and also serving together an editor that (and compositional contributor to) the denomination"s new Yes, mr hymnal. She touched the lives of plenty of singers in Detroit"s vivid gospel scene until her death in Southfield, Michigan, on September 22, 1994. And also her influence continued after she death, audible and also visible in the solo careers of several of the Clark Sisters and also of Karen Clark"s daughter, Kierra "Kiki" Sheard.

At a Glance …

Born in 1925 in Selma, AL; passed away on September 22, 1994, in Southfield, MI; daughter of Fred J. Moss and Mattie J. Walker (a preacher and musician); married Elbert Clark (second marriage); children: Leo, Jacqueline (first marriage), Denise, Twinkie, Dorinda, and Karen (second marriage). Education: attended Selma University, Selma, AL. Religion: Church of God in Christ.


Greater Love Tabernacle Church that God in Christ, Detroit, MI, minister the music, late 1940s; Southwest Michigan Jurisdiction, Church the God in Christ, and Bailey holy place Church of God in Christ, Detroit, minister that music, 1950s and also 1960s; Church that God in Christ, worldwide president the music department, 1968-85, state minister that music, 1985-94.


Trinity College, PA, honorary doctorate, 1981; Michigan legacy Award, 1990.

Selected works

Albums (with the Southwest Michigan State Choir, Church of God in Christ, other than as noted)

Mattie Moss Clark and also the Southwest Michigan State Choir the COGIC, Savoy, 1963.

Wonderful Wonderful, Savoy, 1963.

Humble Thyself, DME, 1964.

None but the Pure In Heart, Savoy, 1964.

A City referred to as Heaven, Savoy, 1965.

Salvation Is Free, Savoy, 1965.

A Closer Walk through Thee, Savoy, 1966.

Show Me the Way, Savoy, 1967.

Lord, Renew My heart Within, Savoy, 1968.

I"ll take it Jesus because that Mine, Savoy, 1969.

The Hand that God reached Out and also Touched Me, Westbound, 1973.

The earnings of Sin Is Death, Malaco, 1975 (as Mattie Moss Clark).

He was Hung Up for My Hang-Ups, Malaco, 1976 (as Mattie Moss Clark).

The best of the Southwest Michigan State Choir, Savoy, 1979.

I"m not Alone, sounds of Gospel, 1979 (as Mattie Moss Clark).

Make Me That structure Not made by Hand, sound of Gospel, 1979 (as Mattie Moss Clark).

Wonderful grace of Jesus, Westbound, so late 1970s (as Mattie Moss Clark).

COGIC gift Jesus Is the irradiate of my Life, Tomato Music Co., 1980.

That"s Christ, Westbound, 1980 (as Mattie Moss Clark).

Mattie Moss Clark presents The greater Williams temple Choir (COGIC) Live, GosPearl, 1982.

Dr. Mattie Moss Clark presents The southerly California holy Gospel Music Workshop, spirit & Truth, 1986.

Live in Atlanta, Capitol, 1994.

Watch Ye Therefore, Capitol, 1994.

Dr. Mattie Moss Clark presents A Reunion of the Southwest Michigan State Choir…Live!, Sparrow, 1995.

I"m not Alone/The hands Of God reached Out and also Touched Me, sounds of Gospel, 2006.

That"s Christ/He was Hung Up because that My hang Ups, sound of Gospel, 2006.

God"s acquired All girlfriend Need/I"m Crucified v Christ, sounds of Gospel, 2006.



Boyer, Horace Clarence, just how Sweet the Sound: The golden age of Gospel, Elliot & Clark, 1995.

Broughton, Viv, black color Gospel: one Illustrated background of the Gospel Sound, Blandford Press, 1985.

Young, Alan, woke Me up This Morning: black color Gospel Singers and also the Gospel Life, University press of Mississippi, 1997.


Michigan Daily, January 18, 2002.


"Dr. Mattie Moss Clark," Clark Sisters pan Club, (April 25, 2007).

"Legends the Detroit Gospel online Exhibit," Michigan State college Museum, (May 29, 2007).

"Mattie Moss Clark," all Music Guide, (April 25, 2007).

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"Michigan heritage Awards: Mattie Moss Clark," Michigan State University: Michigan traditional Arts Program, (April 25, 2007).