Recovering and reclaiming women’s contributions to history is what I relish doing. Whether it’s women in the Bible, women who participated in the civil rights movement, great women in jazz, or women in the church I never get enough of hearing (and retelling) stories of women who defied the odds and made a way out of now way.
I’m happy to close this week out by bringing to light here on the blog another woman readers probably never heard about or know little about. Her name is Mattie Moss Clark (1925-1994) . (”Mrs. Mattie Moss Clark” is how everyone referred to her back then.) As preeminent choir director of the COGIC Convention, Mattie Moss Clark was the First Lady of Gospel Choir Music back in the 60s and 70s. The late James Cleveland is better known as a gospel legend from that period; but make no mistake about it: Mattie Moss Clark was also on the scene traveling the country and changing the direction of black church music. Mattie Moss Clark is credited for creating the three-part harmony (separating vocal parts into soprano, alto, tenor) in choirs, a technique which remains prevalent today.
Growing up COGIC and singing in the youth and young adult choir there was always lots of buzz in the church about Mrs. Mattie Moss Clark. Friends in the choir who took the yearly pilgrimmage to Memphis for the COGIC Convocation meeting (I could never afford to go) went especially for the infamous Convocation Midnight Musicals where Mrs. Clark introduced new music and new songs to the church, where singers and choirs battled for Mrs. Moss’ approval. In the COGIC church where only men can be bishops and pastors, Mattie Moss Clark saw to it that the church’s music department became her domain and ran it like a woman who had to prove that she was as a gifted and anointed as the best of them.
Not only was Mattie Moss Clark a choir director non pareil, the woman, it seems, was also a force of nature. Folks from my church were always coming back from Convocation with stories of something Mattie Moss Clark said or did at the Convocation. Rumors have it that during rehearsals Mrs. Clark would throw sheet music or a shoe in displeasure at a soloist who failed to execute her solo in the proper way, or she would throw a hat or hymnal in joyous ecstasy at one who not only got it right but got it perfect.
Of course, some say that Mattie Moss Clark’s greatest contribution to gospel music is the gift of her singing daughters, The Clark Sisters, who took their mother’s lessons and music to greater heights and then passed them down to their own children (J. Moss, Kiki Sheard). That’s probably true. But today here on this blog Mrs. Mattie Moss Clark is remembered in her own right for her own talents as a church musician, arranger, composer, music teacher, choir director, and minister of music. She brings to heaven experience on how to stand up to the male angel Gabriel and win the respect and attention of heaven’s choir as a choir director par excellent.