Four-time GRAMMY® Award-winner and multiple Stellar and GMA Dove Award winner Karen Clark Sheard is a vocalist, songwriter, entrepreneur, wife and mother. She is also a gospel music legend and a part of a musical dynasty. Admired by a wide range of vocalists from various genres, Clark Sheard is renowned throughout the music industry for her signature, one-of-a-kind multi-octave vocal range and ability. Her musical style with the legendary Clark Sisters and as a solo artist has inspired a host of today’s brightest pop divas including Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, Missy Elliott, and Faith Evans, among countless others.
Clark Sheard also is a partner in ministry with her husband, Bishop J. Drew Sheard, Pastor of Greater Emmanuel Institutional Church of God and Christ in Detroit, MI, where she serves as first lady. In September 2014, hosted her hugely successful inaugural international empowerment summit for all women, with special focus on women in ministry leadership, titled “Lady Karen Clark Sheard Presents: Ladies 1st A Celebration of All Women” in Virginia Beach, VA. This blessed ministry endeavor debuted to 1,500 women+ and plans to be an annual event.
For Clark Sheard, it’s all about family. In fact, family has always been central to her success as one of music’s most gifted and admired vocalists in American Contemporary music. It startedwhen, as a child, Clark Sheard was trained to sing by her mother, pioneering gospel choir director and gospel music icon Dr. Mattie Moss Clark. It has come full circle with her 23- yearold son, producer and musician J. Drew Sheard II, producing tracks on her previous and forthcoming albums, which she recorded for Karew Record, a family-owned label. Her daughter, award-winning gospel music sensation Kierra Sheard also records on the family label.
Clark Sheard’s current Grammy nominated hit single, “Sunday AM” (pronounced as “Sunday Morning”) is produced by multiple award-winning producer Donald Lawrence. The new album “Destined To Win” was released in 2015 through the label’s partnership with Entertainment One Music (eOne Music).
Those family values are on full display in BET’s docu-drama series, The Sheards, which premiered on the network to high ratings on April 7, 2013. In the show’s dramatic first season, Clark Sheard reveals her struggle to juggle being a first lady, gospel superstar and doting mother. During the series, Clark Sheard continues to support her husband and help guide her children—Kierra and J. Drew II—in the right direction as they branch off into adulthood. At the same time, she is trying to reinvent her own career. The second season of The Sheards is slated to air in the near future.
Bishop J. Drew Sheard and Karen Clark Sheard established Karew Records in 2009. “This had been a dream of mine for seven years,” she says of the family enterprise. “We’ve been blessed to have good relationships with many record companies, but over time I wanted more control over the music-making process. Now God has given me this great opportunity and we have two wonderful partnerships. I have my family on my record label, as well as praise and worship leader David Daughtry, but I’m going to be reaching out to young people to help them pursue their dreams too, because there are so many talented artists out there who have not been heard yet.”
The label’s first release was Clark Sheard’s All in One (2010), a CD of urban-flavored gospel, which was her first album in four years. The label has also released The Clark Sisters’ Family Christmas (2010) and daughter Kierra’s fourth album, Free (2011). Most recently, the label released self-titled worship cd(2014) by new artist David Daughtry, the only artist currently signed to the label outside of the family.
“My husband has not only supported my dreams, he has worked to make them come true,” says Clark Sheard. “It’s like God hasn’t forgotten about us and is continuing this legacy that started with my mom.”
Mattie Moss Clark formed her five daughters into the Clark Sisters when Karen was barely a teenager. In 1973, they recorded their first album, Jesus Has A Lot to Give. In 1983, their signature song, “You Brought the Sunshine,” from the album of the same name, became a smash hit—as popular on dance floors as in churches—peaking at #16 on the Billboard Black Singles chart. Over the years, the sisters have recorded 20 albums, including GMA Dove Award-winner and GRAMMY® Award-nominated Heart and Soul (1987) and GRAMMY® Award-nominated Conqueror (1988) and Sincerely (1983), while crafting enduring gospel anthems such as “Endow Me,” “Pray for the USA,” “Name It Claim It” and “Is My Living in Vain?”
In 1997, Clark Sheard launched a solo career with Finally Karen on Island/Def Jam. An instant hit, it sold nearly half a million copies, garnered four Stellar Awards (Female Vocalist of the Year, Contemporary Female Vocalist of the Year, Music Video of the Year, and Best Children’s Performance for “Will of God, featuring daughter Kierra Sheard) and a GRAMMY® nomination. Clark Sheard continued her solo career with other hit CDs, including 2nd Chance (Elektra, 2002), The Heavens Are Telling (Elektra, 2003) and the GMA Dove Award winner, It’s Not Over (Word Records, 2006).
In 2007 she reunited with her sisters, the Clark Sisters, for their #1 comeback CD, Live…One Last Time (EMI Gospel), for which the Clark Sisters won the 2008 GRAMMY® Award for Best Gospel Album. They won a second GRAMMY® for Best Gospel Performance for “Blessed and Highly Favored,” the lead single from that album. Clark Sheard, who wrote and led the song, won a third GRAMMY® that year for Best Gospel Song (a writer’s award). The Clark Sisters were part of the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the GRAMMY® Awards that year, joining Aretha Franklin, BeBe Winans and others as performers for the evening. The Clark Sisters also won four Stellar Awards for the album: Artist of the Year, Group/Duo of the Year, CD of the Year and Traditional Group/Duo of the Year.
“Blessed and Highly Favored” was as popular with record-buying audiences as it was with music critics. The song, shot to #1 on Billboard’s Hot Gospel Songs chart, where it remained for seven weeks. “That was the beginning of me really finding myself as a writer,” says Clark Sheard. “I felt so incapable previously because I was surrounded by such phenomenal writers like my sister Twinkie. I’ve always looked up to Twinkie because of the gift that God has given her. Then, God gave me that song, and the success over that one song made me realize that God has ordained me officially as a writer.”
Clark Sheard brought those newly revealed composing skills to five of the eleven tracks on All in One. That debut album on Karew Records was truly a family affair. She and her son J. Drew II, wrote the initial radio single “Prayed Up.” In addition to J. Drew II producing, Kierra Sheard, she provided background vocals on the set and sings with her mom on “Lord Take Me.” Clark Sheard’s niece Angel Chisholm also sings and co-wrote on the song, along with J. Drew II. Clark Sheard’s cousin J. Moss and his PAJAM production team produced and cowrote five songs for the album.
In 2010, Clark Sheard stepped away from her solo recording work to record “Wait On The Lord,” a duet with Donnie McClurkin from his album, We Are All One. The record won a GRAMMY® Award for Best Gospel Performance, raising Clark Sheard’s GRAMMY® Award total to four. That year she also received a GMA Dove Award for Special Event Album of the year for her performance on Oh Happy Day and a Stellar Award for Special Event CD of the Year for her performance on A Tribute to Maze.
Clark Sheard continues to produce music and expand the reach of Karew Records. In the future, she and Kierra have albums planned for release on the label. “With me being a mom, a pastor’s wife, a songwriter and president and CEO of our record label, it can be challenging, but I enjoy it, just as I enjoy being an artist,” she says. “When I have bad days in this industry, instead of giving up, I think about people who told me that some of my songs really brought them through some issues. That reminds me that what I do isn’t just using my talent to perform, but it’s a ministry as well. It gives me a boost and keeps me going.”
Clark Sheard is using her ministry to both feed the faithful and connect with new audiences outside of the gospel music and church community. At the 2012 BMI Urban Music Awards, she gave one of the evening’s most memorable performances in a tribute to Mariah Carey, and gained new fans such as Eric Benét and Jermaine Dupri. She travels the country as both a singer and an evangelist, and she plans and leads both church-based and national women’s conferences. By adding her new TV series and international KCS Ladies Empowerment Summit to the mix, Karen Clark Sheard is doing her part to extend the reach of the family’s work and uphold her family’s legendary musical legacy.