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Mendhi hands by Pushpa Jain. Photographer unknown. All rights reserved.Fish decoy. Photo by Pearl Yee Wong. All rights reserved.Embroidered dress detail. Photo by Pearl Yee Wong. All rights reserved.Cedar bird by Glen VanAntwerp. Photo by Al Kamuda. All rights reserved.
Michigan Heritage Awards

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Mattie Moss Clark
1990 awardee, Detroit (Wayne County), gospel singer, composer and director

During a career that spanned over a lifetime of 69 years, Dr. Mattie Moss Clark (1925-1994) composed and directed gospel songs that have become classics. At least three of her thousands of compositions are certified as "gold:" Climbing Up the Mountain; Wonderful, Wonderful; and Salvation is Free. As international minister of music for the Church of God in Christ, she was among the last of a generation of musicians, directors, arrangers, and composers who made Detroit a center for the mass choir sound and for African-American gospel music in general.

Dr. Clark wrote her first composition in 1958 and continued composing, arranging and directing choirs for Detroit's Bailey Cathedral Church of God in Christ. She was one of the organizers of the South West Michigan Church of God in Christ State Choir, the first African-American gospel choir to record on Kapp Records. Dr. Clark recorded and/or produced more than 30 albums, which have attracted some of the most talented young singers and musicians in the country.

A Selma, Alabama native, Clark grew up in a musical family that included an evangelist mother and nine sisters and brothers, all of whom are musicians. Throughout her youth she spent more than twelve years studying music, privately and at Selma University, but her grounding in the traditional gospel sound and her focus on Biblically based texts remained paramount. A traditionalist at heart, Mattie was not afraid to change with the times; her willingness to incorporate newer elements within the context of traditional gospel was responsible for her continuing influence over younger musicians. Dedicated to education, she founded the Mattie Moss Clark Conservatory of Music in Detroit to further the talents of vocal musicians as well as instrumentalists on organ and piano, percussion, woodwinds, and strings. The conservatory's emphasis reinforces her belief that gospel is not only the word of God set to music but an art form deserving of greater respect and recognition from the community.

Through her recordings, her nationally and internationally recognized compositions, and her mentorship of numerous prominent gospel performers and directors, she secured a lasting and influential place in the history of African-American gospel music in Detroit and the nation.

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