Karen Clark Sheard
As the Gospel music explosion of the 1990s has resounded well into a new millennium, Karen Clark Sheard stands as a bridge between hallowed tradition and bold innovation. And her fourth solo album, and Word Records debut, It’s Not Over, is proof positive that both the profound message and musical excitement that have always been the cornerstones of Gospel music still hold as strong and sturdy as ever. In the care of Karen, a whole generation of musical visionaries has followed in her wake.
The heart of It’s Not Over was recorded live at Karen’s home church, Greater Emmanuel Institutional Church of God In Christ, in her native Detroit, produced by the hot, hit-making team of Israel Houghton and Aaron Lindsey. Three studio cuts, overseen by the cutting-edge crew, PAJAM, round out the project. Showing herself in complete stylistic command of everything from bedrock, traditional Gospel to up-to-the-minute contemporary, Karen wraps her singular, signature voice around a soul-stirring set of praise & worship music that is nothing short of electrifying.
It’s Not Over captures all the passion of the Gospel tradition, filtering it through ultra-modern musical sensibilities, bringing together the best of both old and new into something fresh, exciting and totally original. In what is already one of the most notable careers in Gospel music, It’s Not Over is Karen Clark Sheard like you’ve never heard her before.
“Authority,” co-written by Karen, is driving Gospel/R&B, propelled by tour-de-force vocals from Karen and her backing ensemble. Echoing the song’s call to believers to use their God-given authority to make a stand against evil, the ensemble does a slow build on the one line, "Taking it back,” while Karen undauntedly asserts the many good things of life she is determinedly reclaiming.
The first radio single, “Favor,” starts with a whisper of gentle balladry before making its way to a crescendo of rousing praise to the Lord. “Hallelujah” is a truly transcendent take on a praise & worship classic, segueing from celestial reverence into high-octane, Sunday morning rocking.
The PAJAM-produced “Be Blessed” pulsates with a choral/urban vibe that shows Karen to be firmly in command of the contemporary Gospel genre in which she herself has had a large hand in creating and innovating throughout her career. “You Showed Me” is a tender, heart-rending ballad of thanks to God for his untold blessings that soars to celestial heights, while “A Living Testimony” is Gospel with a daring, driving urban edge.
As the youngest member of the legendary Clark Sisters, and daughter of Gospel pioneer Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, Karen hails from one of the most popular and defining Gospel music families of the last three decades. She and her sisters began recording in 1973 and hit pay dirt when their conga-themed funk number "You Brought The Sunshine" peaked at #16 on the Billboard R&B singles chart in the summer of 1983.
Over the years, the sisters created enduring gospel favorites such as “My Redeemer Liveth” and “Is My Living in Vain?” In 1997, Clark-Sheard launched a solo career with the award-winning project, Finally Karen on Island/Def Jam that featured a duet with Clark fan, Faith Evans. An out-of-the gate smash, it sold nearly half a million copies, garnered four Stellar Awards and a Grammy nomination. She’s recorded two further hit CDs The Heavens Are Telling (2003) and 2nd Chance (2002) for Elektra Records.
Karen's powerful soprano and multi-textured vocal runs and riffs have become signatures of her singular vocal style, and her talents have given inspiration to legions of followers, including mainstream R&B and pop stars like Mariah Carey, Kelly Price, Missy Elliott and Faith Evans, who, crediting Karen and the Clark Sisters as one of the great musical inspirations of her life, dueted with Karen on a cut from Finally Karen.
Karen expresses gratitude for the praises of other such gifted artists, and also sees an opportunity to have an impact that is more than musical. “I talked with Missy Elliott,” she recalls, “and we began just chatting about music; but it wasn’t long before she told me how a number of the Clark Sisters’ songs had really helped her get through difficult situations in her life. That really enlightened me to the influence Gospel music can have on lots of people who we may not have any idea we are impacting for the Lord. Faith Evans and I had a similar conversation that began with music and singing as our common denominator; but she grew up in the church too, and she’s no stranger to the Word. And beyond the very gracious compliments she paid me, and of even far greater significance to me, was her telling me my songs had touched her life in important ways. Ministry is what I’m all about, and when I hear testimonies like that, it’s very, very encouraging to me.”
Karen balances a life of music and ministry with her home life in Detroit as the wife of Greater Emmanuel’s pastor, Reverend J. Drew Sheard, and the mother of two musically gifted children, Kierra “Kiki” Sheard – now a major-label recording artist in her own right – and John Jr. (J. Drew,) an aspiring producer who in fact already has two big-league credits on his résumé, having produced a pair of songs on his sister’s hit debut project.
Even with more achievements, acknowledgement and success to her credit than many people achieve in an entire lifetime, Karen speaks of the future like a woman whose mission and ministry has only just begun.
“I looked at the world and I feel like there is a whole side of it that hasn’t even been reached,” she concludes. “There are so many millions of people who’ve never heard the Gospel message. And as long as there’s even one soul that hasn’t heard that message, my work here has not yet been accomplished. And it is work, but it’s a calling, and it’s a blessing, and it’s a job that is never finished.”
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