An unwavering faith in God gave Dr. Holly Carter the tenacity to work over a decade to bring “The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel” to fruition.
The much-anticipated movie, which premieres on April 11, at 8 p.m., on Lifetime, recounts the story of the highest-selling female gospel group in history. Considering the legions of fans of the famous quintet, it’s no doubt that multiple generations will tune-in to learn how they rose from humble beginnings to become international industry icons.
The film features Aunjanue Ellis as the sisters’ trailblazing mother, Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, who is credited with propelling their success. Starring as the five Clark sisters are Christina Bell as Twinkie, Kierra Sheard as Karen, Sheléa Frazier as Dorinda, Raven Goodwin as Denise and Angela Birchett as Jacky. According to advance reviews, the cast admirably portrays the family’s journey to overcome abuse, loss, rejection, betrayal and sibling rivalries.
While the actresses deserve much credit for what appears on screen, the production would not have been possible without Carter and her executive producing partners – Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott, Loretha Jones and Shakim Compere. Also, director Christine Swanson played a decisive role in transforming Camille Tucker’s script into reality.
“We have a great director in Christine Swanson. She had a vision to find singers and not populate the film with stars. She said ‘let’s find singers who can really deliver on the Clark sound’ and we followed her vision,” said Carter.
“I am so proud of everyone that made this [film] happen – the original writers who were with me on this journey from the very beginning and Sylvia Jones with Lifetime. We had a great time and I feel very blessed.”
Carter’s strong faith inspired her to keep pursuing the project for nearly 16 years. Like the Clark family, she also grew up in the Church of God in Christ denomination and had musical roots. Carter’s father and siblings were singers and she sang, too.
She was also familiar with The Clark Sisters and had followed their career for years. After meeting the sisters and receiving approval to tell their story, Carter embarked on a years-long effort to make the film come true.
“There were times when I got a little discouraged and I asked God ‘why is it not happening.’ But, God’s timing is everything because it was clear that Kierra had to grow up so she could play her mother, Karen, and if we had done the film earlier she would not have been able to do that,” noted Carter.
“Sometimes we think that we want God to help us to win, but He is the author of time and I am so grateful that it took the time that it took to do this film.”
Another aspect of the movie that Carter believes audiences will find inspiring is the role that the sisters’ mother, Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, played in building their career. A singer, musician, director and arranger, Dr. Clark is credited with creating the three-part harmony, a technique that is prevalent among gospel choirs today. She also served decades as the international president of the Church of God in Christ Music Department.
“Dr. Mattie was incredibly strong, but outside of her strength, she was gifted and anointed. Oftentimes, back then, that was a threat [to male leadership],” explained Carter.
“But, I love that the Bible is true because it says that your gift will make room for you. Her gift made room for her and it made room for her girls. She loved her girls and she put God in front of her girls and she just wanted them to be great!”
Carter’s parents likely had the same desires for her and it appears they equipped her for success. As the owner of Relevé Entertainment LLC, a multi-faceted entertainment company, she created Oxygen’s “Preachers” (of L.A., Detroit and Atlanta) franchise, VH1’s “Love & Listings,” BET’s “The Next Big Thing,” and OWN’s “Chad Loves Michelle.”
Relevé Entertainment also produces The Merge Summit, a weekend educational conference for people of faith that is held annually in Los Angeles. In addition, Carter chairs Freedom of Spirit, an outreach ministry dedicated to serving the homeless and those less fortunate. The South L.A.-based nonprofit was started 35 years ago by Carter’s parents, the late Rev. Billy and Mrs. Ruth Watkins.
Also, the ASCEND Bible Movement, was developed by Carter and casting director Robi Reed. A Bible Study focused on people in the entertainment industry, ASCEND draws hundreds of attendees each month.
Yet, even with all of her accomplishments, Carter maintains excitement about “The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel” film and she hopes that viewers will be uplifted by the movie’s main messages.
“The message that I want people to take away from the film is that family, faith and the community are very important. Mattie Moss Clark really fought to hold her family together and I think as mothers, children and fathers, we should always fight to hold our family together,” said Carter.
“The other message I hope people will receive is that as mothers, when we see gifts in our children, we must commit to stir it up in them and help them cultivate it. And lastly, we have to put our faith to work, even in the climate of living in this pandemic. If we can fight to keep our faith over fear, there is hope,” she insisted.
“My prayer is that this movie will inspire families, faith and the activation of your gifts because our gifts will make room for us.”