Kierra Sheard on Creating Untraditional Lanes with Radical FaithBy Kaylin Young
Sep. 30 2019, Updated 9:28 p.m. ET
There are certain family names that you just know. The Clark family is in that top tier of legendary pedigree that produced gospel titans like Mattie Moss Clark, The Clark Sisters, and the latest generation Kierra Sheard. Sheard’s impact is not only found in the power of her voice because her talent can be found in multiple industries. While many famous heiresses find comfort in sitting on their laurels, Sheard is not one of them. From singer-songwriter and actress to mentor and fashion designer, Sheard has many titles but ultimately wants the world to remember that she’s still human. With a new movie role portraying her mother – the legendary Karen Clark-Sheard – a Fall fashion line premiering in Macy’s, and a live recording of her upcoming album back in her hometown of Detroit, Kierra had a lot to discuss with Bombshell.
BOMBSHELL: Since you’re in the studio preparing for your next album, let’s talk about your single, “Don’t Judge Me”! How do you feel your career has led you to this song? Why is this song right for this time in your life?
KIERRA SHEARD: I think the main thing that people don’t realize that I’m human like every other person. For people who are influencers or in the limelight, the rest of the world doesn’t often give us the opportunity to be “human.” I want to have fun too, I cry, I laugh, my blood is red… I’m just like everyone else. For the “Don’t Judge Me” music video, we’re filming it as I’m in different times of my life. In some scenes, I’m hanging out with my friends – and I just don’t want to be judged for having fun out with my friends. I don’t know one person who lives in church 24/7. So if you see me and I don’t look all the way together, don’t judge that either – maybe I’m having an off day or I just woke up. There have been times in my career where I am heavily judged – just as most of us in the limelight are. I do recognize my assignment – and I’m happy to carry it – and hopefully, the Lord is pleased with what I do. But I don’t want to be judged for being human.
B: Even though you’re saying you’re “human”, you have to be superhuman to keep up with all that you do. From singing, creating this new album to acting and being a designing your fashion brand, Eleven60. How did your clothing line come to be?
KS: I’ve always been a thick and plus-size girl for as long as I can remember. I wasn’t able to shop in the regular-sized stores like my friends were able to and when I went to the plus-sized stores, I didn’t see the fashions that I wanted to wear. I wanted to have the dope clothes just like my smaller-size friends did. So I literally created the answer for myself f- and for other women in my sector. Before then, I’d go into my father’s closet since his clothes fit me, and I’d sew this, add an applique to that or stitch up that. Truly, I was a designer before I even knew I was because I was 14 and 15 making women’s apparel out of my father’s clothing. And it was in 2016 that I launched the fashion line, Eleven60 – which the name is inspired by my mom because that’s her birth month and year. She’s always been a huge inspiration for me and especially in fashion because she’s also on the heavier side, but she always dressed fashion-forward for her age group. I wanted to give plus-size women – which is the average American size – exactly what the straight-size women have in terms of fashion so they can stand next to all of their friends and feel like they can be just as fashionable. We are in Macy’s, which is huge for not only a plus-size company but a faith-based company, so for that, we are so blessed.
B: While Eleven60 is molding your own legacy, you are also a member of a famous family of gospel singers. As many “PKs” (preacher’s kids) know, there is a certain pressure that follows you regardless of how separated you are from the family “business”? How has that impacted your outlook and your success?
KS: I’m blessed to be a part of this bloodline and this legacy because I don’t have to look outside of my family for inspiration. While I am inspired by others in the same industry, my mother is my biggest inspiration – my aunt, my grandmother, Mattie Moss Clark. These women are trailblazers in the gospel community, and they impacted my life by giving me live-in inspiration. Even my father, who was huge on education, was inspiring to me. Being a part of this family can be a lot of pressure, but I think its healthy pressure because it sets me up to never be satisfied with mediocrity. I want to be as great as my mom and aunts are, I want to leave an impact as big – or bigger – than my grandmother. All these years later, choirs, groups, singers, are using techniques from my grandmother – even people who never met her. That’s something I’ve gained from my family – the value of leaving a timeless legacy. Timeless is what the Clark Sisters are. Their work is sampled by various artists – even outside the gospel sector – and it’s because they are timeless. So of course, there is pressure because people expect excellence, and it can be difficult, but I’ve been at this for over 20 years, so I just use it as a healthy fuel because they keep me so inspired. I’m surrounded by this strong village of people and I’m incredibly blessed to say that; so many people have the talent, the gift, and the know-how, but they don’t have the proper support and your environment is everything. I don’t count it lightly that I have these inspirations in my close environment.
B: Not only are you inspired by your mother, but you are literally stepping into your mother’s shoes for the upcoming Lifetime biopic of The Clark Sisters to portray the role of Karen Clark Sheard. How has this process been of transforming into your greatest inspiration?
KS: I don’t know if I expected it to be easy or hard, but I remember the first few rehearsals, I was trying to figure it out and then something clicked like “this is my mom – I know her.” I think I was overthinking, but after that, it became so much easier to transform into that woman who I already knew. But being her and walking in her shoes – even though it’s only acting – has made me gain such profound respect for the quiet force that she is. I’m very different because I’m not as quiet, but having that vantage point of portraying this woman who is not only my mom but also the youngest sister of this legendary group…it gave me a different view of her, so transforming into her was a little more strategized, but when I let go, it just flowed a little better.
I was so humbled when I found out I was selected to play her because I was not an automatic choice just because she’s my mother. I had to audition and wait on the answer just like everyone else. So I’m definitely blessed and wouldn’t want it any other way.
B: Besides helping you garner a deeper level of respect for her, has it changed your relationship with your mother?
KS: I gained more respect for her – which I didn’t even think was possible considering she is my very best friend and my biggest inspiration. So it was hard to believe I could love her more, respect her more, honor her more, but stepping into this role allowed me to see her as a member of this singing group instead of just as my mom. When we see her on stage, the world sees Karen Clark Sheard, but I just see my mommy. But being on set, it was just different and gave me a different perspective. I think artist-to-artist, that relationship may have gotten stronger – which I didn’t think was possible. Seeing how the sisters respected her as the baby sister of the group, that in itself made me respect her more. My auntie Dodo – and other people – often compare her to the “Michael Jackson of the Clark Sisters”, and I was able to see that through playing her. It was an undeniably life-changing experience to walk in her shoes.
For me to become my mom at that moment made me think differently about what she’d gone through – even the scenes with her interacting with the man who plays my father, when she’s in the hospital, all of those moments helped me fully-embody the essence of being Karen Clark Sheard.
B: You’ve done so many other things in various industries, but you also have a mentorship program! What led you to create SistHER Mentorship?
KS: I travel a lot and at least every other trip, I’m asked to mentor people. For some reason, my generation and the generation under is attracted to me, and I view it as an honor and assignment, so why not create a community for me to mentor them and them mentor other people? I have friends who are a part of sororities and fraternities, but I was never a part of one, so why not create a similar sisterhood that creates an environment where women come together as sisters and feel safe and uplifted and celebrated?
We have one sister who is graduating with her doctorate and other sisters are traveling from around the country to celebrate with her. It really gives me an incredible sense of accomplishment to bring these women altogether. We meet once a month over a Zoom conference call and then I spend one-on-one time with them. In the summer, we rent out a mansion and get together and have a fun weekend. This is the second year doing this mentorship program and it’s only getting bigger and better. I just love my sisters and I’m so grateful because I’m glad that I was able to create what was needed.
B: As an artist at the epicenter of Christianity & culture, how do you maintain an identity as a believer working with artists who aren’t necessarily known for their praise & worship?
KS: I try to be true to who I am. Praise and worship is a lifestyle and it’s a beautiful thing that God wants you to come as you are. So, I stay true to myself. I don’t try to be anyone else because it won’t come across well if otherwise. I’ve once compared myself to others and I wasn’t being fair to myself, I wasn’t peaceful, and what I had to offer was minimized because I started to think it had to be done another way. It wasn’t true. So, that precious journey keeps me humble and remembering that God called me, and He gave me everything I need to have my own identity.
B: Regardless of religious affiliation, there is no denying the industry influence of Missy Elliot and the star power of Chance the Rapper. What do you hope the impact of these collaborations will be?
KS: I hope it’ll extend my reach to share this spiritual love and faith that I’ve experienced with others. I hope it allows others to see that we aren’t boxed in by our faith but we’re in touch and connected. Many think that religion causes people to be late. But it’s not a religion, it’s this God-filled relationship that keeps me progressing and wanting more or bigger.
B: You’re performing the live version I’d your upcoming album, Kierra, back home in Detroit. What is it about being home that resonates with you & your performance?
KS: Home is where it all started for me. It inspires me and allows me a level of comfort that I don’t always have. Being in this space often has me able to create more freely. The worship at my home church is something special. I can’t wait to share this authentic space with the world.
B: We’ve talked so much about music, but can we expect any additional acting roles from you – family-related or otherwise – anytime soon?
KS: I hope so! I’d love to work with Tyler Perry. I believe I can do it. This Clark Sisters movie is so special to me. Playing my mother was overwhelmingly emotional and life-changing. Their story is beautiful. It carries so much strength, love, legacy, faith, and genuineness.
You can find more about what Kierra is up to on social media @kierrasheard on Instagram and Twitter.