Clark Sisters add their stories to library’s collection of interviews with gospel greats

  • 7 women and 1 man pose for the camera in front of decorative wood moulding in Sterling Library Nave.
  • Black woman with short hair and black and white checked jacket smiles at someone in distance
    Elbernita “Twinkie” Clark
  • Black woman with blonde chin-length hair and white dress with blue and red patterning and silver necklace tips head and smiles as she listens.
    Jacky Clark Chisholm
  • Black woman with long reddish hair and a white and bright pink flowered dress gestures with two hands as she makes her point.
    Dorinda Clark-Cole
  • Woman with long brown curled hair sits next to bouquet of flowers wearing a white suit with grey question marks, gesturing with both hands as she talks.
    Karen Clark Sheard
  • Woman with long dark hair in profile, wearing large wire frame glasses, black wristwatch, dark green top, and. blue nailpolish lifts her hands at chest level as she speaks.
    Interviewer Ambre Dromgoole (MAR ’17)
  • Four women seated in semicircle in brown chairs with a round light-brown table in front of them. There are microphone stands on either side. The interviewer faces them, with back to camera
April 14, 2023

The renowned Clark Sisters—“the first ladies of gospel,” as they are described in the title of their 2020 bio-pic—visited Sterling Library to add their voices to the library’s growing collection of taped interviews with prominent figures in gospel music.

The Clark Sisters, known for their pioneering fusion of musical styles, have produced 37 albums to date, as a group and individually, and have won three Grammy awards.

Ambre Dromgoole (MAR ’17), PhD candidate in African American Studies and Religious Studies, interviewed the four women: Jacky Clark Chisholm, Elbernita “Twinkie” Clark, Dorinda Clark-Cole, and Karen Clark Sheard. Dromgoole herself grew up as a gospel singer and church musician in Nashville, Tennessee.

The Clark Sisters are the daughters of gospel musician, composer, and choral director Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, who was a significant figure in gospel music nationwide. Dr. Clark was founder of the Clark Conservatory of Music in Detroit, the family’s hometown. For 25 years, she served as president of the Church of God in Christ’s International Music Department. Dr. Clark trained her daughters in music performance from a young age, and they, in turn, have passed on the love of music to their children. Most of the children are involved in the music business in some way, and several have performed with their mothers and aunts.

“I’m going to get to the legacy angle on both ends,” Dromgoole said in advance of the interview session, “because it feels to me as if the sisters have taken great care by being able to instill the memory of their mother into their work while also forecasting for future generations too.”

The Clark Sisters performed at College Street Music Hall on April 14 to a sold-out crowd. The performance can be viewed via YouTube.

The library’s Oral History in American Music (OHAM) program is a collaboration with the Institute of Sacred Music and Yale School of Music as part of the interdisciplinary program Music and the Black Church, launched by Professor Braxton Shelley in 2021. The videotaped interview with the Clark Sisters will become part of OHAM’s Major Figures in American Music Collection, which now comprises more than 1,400 recorded interviews—dating from 1970 to the present day—with prominent composers and musicians. .

Watch Ambre Dromgoole’s interview with the Clark Sisters. Read more about the Interdisciplinary Program on Music in the Black Church

Many of the interviews in the OHAM collection can be streamed online using the Aviary platform. For information on how to access the interviews, view interview tables of contents, or request interview transcripts, select the tab “Accessing OHAM” in the collection guide

—Deborah Cannarella

Group photo (left to right): Libby Van Cleve (Director, Oral History of American Music)Braxton Shelley (Director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Music and the Black Church), Dorinda Clark-Cole, Jacky Clark Chisholm, Elbernita “Twinkie” Clark, Karen Clark Sheard, Risë Nelson (Director, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Yale University Library), Ambre Dromgoole. All photos by Judy Sirota Rosenthal