On Saturday, April 11, Lifetime is debuting a new movie that chronicles the lives and careers of the legendary singing group the Clark Sisters. Dubbed “the first ladies of gospel,” they are the highest-selling female gospel group of all time and have three Grammy Awards to their name.
During the premiere of The Clark Sisters: The First Ladies of Gospel, viewers may be wondering if the cast is doing their own singing. The answer is a resounding yes. Read on to find out why it was important to executive producers Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige and Missy Elliott to find actors who could take on such difficult music and also which cast member is the real-life daughter of one of the Clark Sisters.
It was Important to Cast Singers Who Could Act
At the 2020 Television Critics Association winter press tour, the EPs revealed that director Christine Swanson wanted singers who could “bring the house down” in order to really capture “the essence of the Clark Sisters.”
Queen Latifah said that during the casting process, if someone couldn’t handle the Clark Sisters songs in the audition, then that was a dealbreaker.
“You may think this is some sort of typical casting, but I’d behoove any of you to go into the Clark Sisters’ catalog and become familiar with their music … I would love for you to listen to their music and try to break down their harmonies and the way that those tracks are built, and the way that they do their runs, and see if you can follow them, and see how challenging they are and how they bounce into different cadences. You got to have a pocket. You got to be able to really pull this off and it’s no easy task. And people love the Clark Sisters so much that you have to pull it off because you’re going to be looking at us like we better get this right,” said Queen Latifah.
The Cast Was Intimidated by the Clark Sisters’ Talent
The main cast is made up of Christina Bell (Elbernita “Twinkie” Clark), Angela Birchett (Jacky Clark Chisholm), Shelea Frazier (Dorinda Clark Cole), Kierra Sheard (Karen Clark Sheard), Raven Goodwin (Denise Clark Bradford), and Aunjanue Ellis as the Clark Sisters’ mother, Dr. Mattie Moss Clark.
During the casting process, Kierra, who is Karen Clark Sheard’s daughter, ended up being cast to player her mother. But she had to audition like everyone else and she says it was incredibly intimidating to try to fill her mother’s shoes, especially because she wasn’t sure if her vocal chops were quite up to snuff.
“Trying to sing like her, I literally became lightheaded trying to hit her notes,” said Sheard, adding that within the cast, sometimes they had to “switch the notes” that they each singing because “it would be too high for [them] to sing on,” but that was part of what made them feel like a real family during filming.
“I’d be like, ‘Ang, can you take this for me? Can you handle that for me?’ Or ‘Christina, can you handle that?’ So I think that was, too, how we became like true sisters,” said Sheard.
Birchett also said that she really had to work on making her voice sound like Jacky Clark Chisholm because Jacky’s voice is so different from her own. But they worked with producer Donald Lawrence, who produced some of the Clark Sisters’ music, and he helped them get it right.
“Donald Lawrence, who is so beloved by the Clark Sisters, he worked with us before they even yelled, ‘Action!”’ and we just got that sound just so precise to a certain point where we actually put a clip online and no one believed that it was not the real Clark Sisters. So, I think we got pretty close to it. It kind of scared us, too,” said Frazier.
The Clark Sisters: The First Ladies of Gospel premieres Saturday, April 11 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime. It is being rebroadcast later that night at midnight ET/PT, on Easter Sunday at 11:30 a.m. and 10 p.m., on Monday, April 13 at 2 a.m., and on Saturday, April 18 at noon ET/PT.