DR. MATTIE MOSS CLARK
Gospel Music historians regard her as one of the most iconic figures in the genre. Ebony Magazine dubbed her the “Queen of Gospel.” But for those of us in the grand ole Church Of God In Christ who knew her best, she was simply our sainted and beloved “Dr. Clark,” “Mattie,” or “Madame President.”
Dr. Mattie Moss Clark remains one of the most influential and important figures in the history and progression of gospel music as well as in the history of the Church of God in Christ. Her legacy has created and helped to shape some of the most successful gospel artists including Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Donald Vails, Commissioned, Bishop Richard “Mr. Clean” White, Elder James Lenox, Psalmist Bettye Ransom Nelson, Esther Smith, Keith Pringle, Bishop Rance Allen, and the late Rev. James Moore and her own daughters, The Clark Sisters. She taught that one should never try to sing, preach, teach, or reach without prayer and that Christ must always be the center of attraction and the center of one’s life.
Born the seventh of nine children to Fred John Moss and Mattie Juliet Walker in Selma, AL, on March 26, 1925, she began playing the piano at age six. By 12, she became the musician for mother’s services at the Church of Christ and Prayer. After high school, she attended Selma University and received training in classical music and choral singing. In addition, she continued to travel with her mother and play at her mission services.
She moved to Detroit in 1947 to be with her sister Sybil Burke and became a member of Greater Love Tabernacle Church of God in Christ. There, under the leadership of Bishop W. Rimson, she was baptized in the Holy Ghost and subsequently became the Minister of Music. She served an historic tenure as Minister of Music for both Southwest Michigan Jurisdiction and Bailey Temple Church of God in Christ, under Bishop John Seth Bailey. Soon she was in demand to train choirs at churches throughout the brotherhood of COGIC. She married her first husband, Mr. Cullum and that union produced two children Leo and Jacqueline. Her next marriage was to Elder Elbert Clark and unto their union four daughters were born, Denise, Twinkie, Dorinda, and Karen.
In 1958, she recorded “Going to Heaven to Meet the King,” with the Southwest Michigan State Choir, becoming the first person to commit the sounds of a choir to record. She is credited as the first person to separate vocal parts into soprano, alto and tenor. She received three gold albums with the Southwest Michigan State Choir, and went on to write and arrange hundreds of songs and record over 50 albums.
She directed Cadillac Motor Company’s Christmas choir for eleven years and also conducted community wide mass choirs for the prestigious NAACP Freedom Fund Dinners. In 1979, she founded the Clark Conservatory of Music in Detroit, which established itself as one of the most prestigious schools of its kind in the country. In 1981, Trinity College in Pennsylvania conferred upon her one of their highest honors, the degree of Doctor of Humanity. After the death of Bishop Bailey in 1985, she continued as State Minister of Music for Southwest Michigan Jurisdiction #1, attending Greater Mitchell Church of God in Christ, under Bishop J.H. Sheard. She was also one of the editors and contributors to the hymnal published by the Church Of God In Christ entitled “Yes, Lord.”
When the late Presiding Bishop J. O. Patterson, Sr. appointed her the International President of the International Music Department in 1968, she worked to instill within musicians and choirs a responsibility to Christ as well as capability for Christ. Throughout her efforts, young people especially received her and many were saved, and uplifted by her music and message.
She completely revolutionized the music departments. She gave definition to the role of State Minister of Music, traveled year-round to every state in the country conducting workshops, rehearsals and musicals to prepare choirs for service on the National Church level and organized the structure of the National Music Convention of the Church of God in Christ. Dr. Clark introduced the workshop and seminar concept to the convention, and along with her staff, structured classes for the convention and created “A Song Is Born,” the program where new talent was introduced before thousands.
As her health declined, Dr. Clark never lost the fire and passion for her mission, and she learned to give all she had with whatever God gave her and believed He would do the rest. An accomplished musician, singer, arranger, composer, leader, director, teacher, and exemplary woman of God, Dr. Clark died on September 22, 1994. The legacy of Dr. Mattie Moss Clark is one that will stand as a testament to the anointing of God and his gifts, what she accomplished is matched by only a handful of anointed vessels, cementing her standing as the true “First Lady of Gospel Music”.
The International Music Department, Church Of God In Christ will never forget the contributions of Dr. Clark, whose thumbprint remains at the base core of our identity. Her pursuit of excellence in music ministry continues to thrive among all who followed her. We are proud to stand upon the shoulders of Dr. Mattie Moss Clark — Gospel Music Pioneer and IMD Trailblazer.