The music world keeps juggling genres and descriptions. It has rock and rap and R-&-B, hip hop and pop and more.
But at their roots, some people say, is gospel music in general and the Clark Sisters in particular. “I may rap,” Queen Latifah said, “but I got Clark in my heart.”
Others agreed. “I sing R&B music,” Shelea Frazier said, “but gospel is a lifestyle. So I’m always going to sing in the name of Jesus.”
That makes their movie (shown here) logical for this weekend. Lifetime will debut “The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel” on Saturday, then repeat it twice on Easter Sunday.
Latifah produced the film with Mary J. Blige and Missy Elliott. It’s the story of how Mattie Moss Clark – already a prominent choir director, teacher and arranger – molded her five daughters into a group. Their music – rippling with riffs, trills and scats – crossed over to (and influenced) mainstream music. Their 1981 “You Brought the Sunshine” became a key track at many discos, including Studio 54.
“I could sneak in clubs at 15; it was a differtent era,” Latifah said. “They would play that song as the last song and then everybody would go home with (a) different feeling.”
Mattie is played by Aunjanue Ellis, best-known for her Emmy-nominated work in “When They See Us,” as the mother of one of the mistakenly convicted “Central Park Five.” For the daughters, Latifah said, the need was specific: “If you can’t sing these songs, then we’re a no-go.”
Rachel Goodwin, who plays Denise Clark, considers herself strictly an actress. “I don’t sing,” she said, “but I can hold a tune.”
The others are singers who started with gospel, then moved on. “I started in church, but I make a living doing theater,” Angela Birchett said. “I’m a Broadway girl.”
Birchett – who was in the “Color Purple” ensemble – plays Jacky Cullum, Mattie’s daughter from her first marriage. Playing her four half-sisters are Goodwin, Frazier (as Dorita), Christine Bell (“Twinkie”) and “Kiki” Sheard … who plays her real-life mother, Karen Clark Sheard.
“It became more of a personal thing, learning her story and what she’s done as a trailblazer for gospel music,” she said. “And to see how there are even pop artists that admire what she does.
“It has blown me away. Trying to sing like her, I became light-headed trying to hit her notes.”
– “The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel,” 8-10:33 p.m. Saturday, Lifetime
– Repeats the next day (Easter Sunday) at 11:30 a.m. and 10:03 p.m.
– Surrounded on Lifetime by other faith-based films – Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and at 10:33 p.m., Sunday from 2-10 p.m.
– Other Easter shows are Saturtday and Sunday on UpTV and Sunday on Turner Classic Movies, Oprah Winfrey Network, History, BET, TV One and Reelz.