Gospel music is famous for big melodies, big personalities and big voices. And Lifetime (131) is bringing the story of gospel’s biggest-selling female group to your screen on Sunday, 17 May at 19:20, with biographical drama movie The Clark Sisters: The First Ladies Of Gospel. If you’re not in front of the TV screen, use DStv Now to stream straight to your device wherever you are.

Like so many talented stars who’ve made it big in the industry, the quintet – Denise, Dorinda, Jacky, Karen and Elbernita “Twinkie” – had to fight every step of the way. Fame and glory on the church stage wasn’t handed to them. They rose up from humble beginnings in Detroit, Michigan, and were guided by their choir director-musician mother Dr Mattie Moss Clark to learn from, and use as a driving force in their careers, all of the abuse, rejection, betrayal, hurt and suffering that they had experienced individually and as a family. And it certainly paid off, because not only did they become gospel’s biggest stars, the Clark Sisters’ story has been brought to the screen by three executive producers who are fans and are among music’s biggest stars: Queen Latifah, Mary J Blige and Missy Elliot.

Queen Latifah

Queen Latifah is better known for her acting nowadays, but she was one of rap music’s first and biggest female acts – her 1989 debut album All Hail The Queen is regarded as one of the genre’s best. But she has been a fan of the Clark Sisters since her beginnings in the church choir, and Queen jumped at the opportunity to executive produce the made-for-TV movie.

“The Clark Sisters are one of the most influential gospel groups ever. They have been with me since my childhood years. When I started listening to disco, club music, even hip-hop in its early years, RnB… in the background there is this gospel record (song) that is playing and being sampled called ‘You Brought The Sunshine’. The Clark Sisters can step into any genre of music and their songs can be used in any kind of song. But they chose to do gospel. That’s what they were called to do, and they are an amazing group, period.”

“I can’t tell you about the countless conversations that we have had, myself and (co-executive producers and music superstars) Mary J Blige and Missy Elliot. Don’t let us get on the subject of the Clark Sisters. When we talk about the harmonies they do on certain records, when we talk about the influence that they’ve had on our lives, when we talk about the ups and downs that we go through and how their music helps to bring us through, it becomes a spiritual conversation because of the Clark Sisters and their gospel songs.”

Mary J Blige

Mary is one of the music world’s most soulful hip-hop and RnB stars, and she has 13 multi-platinum albums and nine Grammy Awards to prove it. Her 2006 song Be Without You was voted one of the 100 most successful RnB records ever, and Mary will tell you exactly who inspired her to get into music and perform with her God-given talents.

“I can remember being a little girl, seven years old, the first gospel singer or singers that I heard that I wanted to sing along to and made me believe something was the Clark Sisters. The harmonies are just inexplicable. They really just have an anointing that just spoke to my life.”

When it comes to film and television, Mary has usually had a singing role or provided the soundtrack. But this project called for her to step away from acting and rather be involved as an executive producer to make sure that the Sisters’ influence on her came through in the movie. “It was important for me to make this film and join forces with my sisters, Queen Latifah and Missy. We owe it to them, we owe it to the Clark Sisters because they have given us so much of their lives, they trained us to sing, they trained us how to believe. These women are human, and you know we’re like they are so angelic, they’re so anointed but they had to go through something and sacrifice something in order for us to feel like we do, when we hear them.”

Missy Elliot

When it comes to in-your-face rap and RnB artists, Missy is the genre’s face of the ’90s and early 2000s with songs like her Grammy-winning 2002 hit Work It. But she didn’t train her vocal skills just on the streets. She got hooked on the Clark Sisters in a less conventional place than the church pew.

“The Clark sisters have contributed so much to the Missy Elliot sound. My harmonies could never be like them at all, but they have influenced so many people like myself. I was introduced to the Clark Sisters in high school. I had a little red car, I had taken a house speaker and wired it up to my radio and I would pull up to the school the Clark Sisters playing. I know the people at my school probably were like, ‘She is crazy. One minute she’s got the gospel playing and then she was rapping on the side of the car.’ Clark Sisters always stayed in my tape deck.”

Missy is pleased that she and her co-executive producers have also found the perfect home for their production. “Lifetime is a great place for the Clark Sisters because they (Lifetime) have always told the story of powerful women and, of course, these women are legendary.”

Watch The Clark Sisters: The First Ladies Of Gospel on Sunday, 17 May on Lifetime (131) at 19:20

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