Lifetime’s biopic of the Clark sisters tells the story of the first ladies of gospel

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By Barb Oates

It was a Saturday morning in Pasadena earlier this year, where a room full of TV critics had been gathering for 12 days straight at the semiannual Television Critics Association Press Tour, when our spirits were uplifted. Five relatively unknown ladies took the stage, along with their executive producer Queen Latifah, and ultimately left the room speechless with their angelic voices. These ladies are the stars of Lifetime’s original film The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel, a captivating film airing April 11 on Lifetime about the trailblazing family of gospel singers who became the highest-selling female gospel group in history.

The film begins in 1963 Detroit and introduces us to the sisters’ abusive father and their musically gifted mother Dr. Mattie Moss Clark (played by When They See Us Emmy nominee Aunjanue Ellis). Dr. Clark believed her girls were better than the Jackson 5 and tirelessly taught them how to sing like they knew God. But the Clark sisters’ story – that of Twinkie (Christina Bell, a gospel vocalist), Karen (Kierra Sheard, who portrays her own mother), Dorinda (Sheléa Frazier, a singer and pianist), Denise (Raven Goodwin, Glee) and Jacky (Angela Birchett, a self-described “Broadway girl”) – is one of faith, love and sisterhood, amid their humble beginnings and their mother’s overbearing demands.

“There’s a beautiful, wonderful rich history that the Clark sisters have with their family, with their friends – in gospel and out of gospel – as well as with their audience,” says Latifah, who executive produced along with Missy Elliott and Mary J. Blige. “People are so endeared to them and have followed them so long, that [they will] probably take the music a little bit more personally until they really get to hear the story of how it all came to be, which these ladies bring to light amazingly well.”

The Clark sisters’ journey to international fame is filled with drama, rejection, betrayal and, at times, rivalry and heartache. In the end, however, it’s their inspirational words and voices (along with these extraordinary actors’ performances) that will stick with you forever.