Published on March 19th, 2018 | by Nicole Vear
Women’s History Month – Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, The Matriarch of Harmony & The Disciple of Revolutionary Sound
She was an institution. Mobile in reaching the masses, yet deeply rooted. Both her learning and her teaching traversed the acoustics of the church and the souls who dwelled in them. Learning the fundamentals of sound, specifically Gospel music, and having the control to expand them in order to emit divine expression, was her mission. Her methods of teaching were the stuff of legend. A flying shoe or a stare were tools to get the composition (and the word of God) correct. Innovate to spiritually elevate was the name of her game and Dr. Mattie Moss Clark was both player and coach.
As a singer, composer, producer and musician, Dr. Clark was known as the matriarch of the Clark family Gospel legacy. Her Christian and musical upbringing via her parents would serve as the tools that molded her. In return, Dr. Clark used this foundation to sculpt the distinct sound of COGIC (Church of God and Christ) and shape the future of Gospel music. Born on March 26th 1925 in Selma, AL to Fred John Moss, a preacher, and Mattie Juliet Walker, a singer and evangelist, she was the seventh of nine children. By age 12, Clark provided music for her mother’s services. She would later follow the same path with bringing her daughter Elbernita “Twinkie” Clark under her wing to become a musical innovator in her own right.
Dr. Clark got her distinguished title by the work and study she did of classical and choral training at Selma University. Dr. Clark’s path found her as a leader at many institutions, a receiver of many prestigious awards, a mentor to many youth and an instructional innovator. Her tenures included Minister of Music for both the Southwest Michigan State community and Bailey Temple Church of God in Christ, Cadillac Motor Company’s Christmas choir, the Bailey Cathedral, the Texas Southeast State, Charles Harrison Mason Memorial and the Central Illinois Mass Choirs, Corey Skinner’s Collegiate Voices of Faith and many more. In 1968, Dr. Clark became the chief administrative organizer for COGIC’s international music department (a position she held for 25 years) and organized the structure of its National Music Convention. She revolutionized the way Gospel music was conducted by 1) creating the tradition of separating the three part harmony in songs and 2) introducing the workshop and seminar concept to the COGIC convention.
In 1979, she founded the Clark Conservatory of Music in Detroit, and in 1981, she was honored by Trinity College in Pennsylvania with a degree of Doctor of Humanity. She is credited with being the first person to commit the sounds of a choir to record. Dr. Clark is reported to have written more than 1000 songs and compositions and recorded at least 35 albums during her career.
To many, Dr. Clark’s greatest contributions to music were her daughters known musically as The Clark Sisters. Their history alone is worthy of highlighting and their upbringing reared by Mattie is a testimony to that. As Dr. Clark’s daughter Jacky Clark Chisholm expressed about her mother: “Where we are in church issues. My mother’s mindset was: The best songs are written about the worst trials. Deeply rooted. What we go through at the moment… If it doesn’t have a message, anybody can write a nursery rhyme. To really write a song, it speaks to the power of God.” Her impact was enormous and felt throughout generations. In 2017, Dr. Clark’s Grammy Award winning granddaughter Kierra Sheard penned a heartfelt open-letter to her late grandmother that recognized Dr. Clark’s ability to be in tune with youth and the energy in which they wanted to express their spirituality. During the COGIC conventions, Dr. Clark held structure classes for the convention and created the “A Song Is Born,” program where new talent was introduced in front of thousands.
Dr. Mattie Moss Clark birthed a musical movement, through sound and the children she brought into the world. If Mahalia was the mother of Gospel music, Dr. Clark was, as Ebony Magazine put it, the “Queen of Gospel”.