Gospel legend Moss Clark honored at Hill

BY JENNI GLENN
Daily Arts Writer
Published January 18, 2002

A tribute to one of gospel"s legendary figures, Detroit"s Mattie Moss Clark, will finally converge at Hill Auditorium this Monday.

Paul Wong
The Rudy Hawkins Singers.<br><br>Courtesy of UMS

A night more than eight years in the making, the performance will feature gospel musicians, including the Clark sisters, the Rudy Hawkins Singers and the Rance Allen Group.

Music director Dr. Rudy Hawkins said he first considered an event to honor Clark, the first person to have a gospel choir"s sound set down on a record, before her death in 1994. Hawkins continued to mention to project to potential sponsors, including the University Musical Society, which he first approached three years ago. The Clark tribute event is the result of interest in preserving Clark"s under-publicized work, he said.

"As far as gospel black choir music is concerned, I"d hate to see how choral music would be without this amazing composer," Hawkins said. "She"s like the Bach of black gospel choral music."

Clark wrote and arranged hundreds of songs during a career that spanned more than 35 years. The Southwest Michigan State Choir that she directed as minister of music for the Church of God in Christ received three gold albums.

But Clark is best remembered for her innovations in choral music. These include the use of orchestral arrangements and division of vocal arrangements into soprano, alto and tenor parts, said James Peddy, who wrote the script for the tribute event.

Clark"s many musical achievements influenced a variety of famous gospel artists such as Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Yolanda Adams, Esther Smith and the late Rev. James Moore. She also helped launch the careers of her daughters, The Clark Sisters.

For the tribute, the challenge proved to be sorting through Clark"s numerous works and choosing only a few songs, Hawkins said. The concert will feature "Salvation is Fine," "Climbing up the Mountain" and "Let Everything that has Breath Pray Praise the Lord."

In between musical numbers, the tribute will highlight Clark"s life, from her beginnings in Selma, Ala. as one of nine children, to her triumphs as her church"s state minister of music. The story also will detail Clark"s battles with chauvinist attitudes among some church members toward her success. Diane Steinberg-Lewis, daughter of Detroit radio personality Martha Jean "the Queen" Steinberg, will serve as narrator at the tribute.

The concert will close the University"s weekend of Martin Luther King, Jr. observances. Peddy said the timing is appropriate because members of the Civil Rights movement incorporated gospel music into demonstrations.

"This music we call gospel was very influential in the civil rights movement, and that"s why it"s fitting," he said.

Peddy said the concert also serves as a way to create a place in history for Clark"s achievements. While Clark"s legacy has helped shape modern music, Peddy said she and other gospel legends have not yet received the amount of acclaim they deserve.

"It helps to honor these great gospel musicians and remember their contributions long after they"re dead," he said.