(KGET) — Sheléa Frazier, who plays Dorinda Clark in the Lifetime Original movie “The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel,” started singing and playing piano when she was a child growing up in Bakersfield. Both of her parents worked in the educational system here and she tries to make trips to Bakersfield a couple of times a year to visit relatives.
“I am a Bakersfield girl and lived there many years,” Frazier, who attended Ridgeview High School, says in a telephone interview to talk about her starring role in the cable movie. “I have amazing memories of Bakersfield – picking raspberries and strawberries with by grandma.”
“The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel” – executive produced by Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige and Missy Elliott – tells the story of the highest-selling female gospel group in history and of their trailblazing mother, Mattie Moss Clark (Aunjanue Ellis).
The sisters are credited with bringing Gospel music to the mainstream through their 17 albums and extensive touring. They would eventually win three Grammy Awards.
Making “The Clark Sisters” was an emotional project for Frazier.
“The Clark Sisters are definitely the soundtrack to my childhood,” Frazier says. “It’s such a full circle getting to play someone that you have emulated and looked up to and loved for so many years.
“I remember my mom having their music and listening to it. But, I didn’t know who they were. It wasn’t until later that was the Clark Sisters who did a doing a song I like, ‘Miracle.’”
The sisters earned international fame but it came at a personal cost to them. They had to overcome humble beginnings in Detroit where they faced abuse, loss, rejection, betrayal and sibling rivalries. They also had to deal with the iron hand their mother used to guide their careers.
The majority of Frazier’s career has been involved with the music industry. She sang lead on the track “Someone to Watch Over Me”, at the request of Take 6, in 2008. Frazier’s debut album, Love Fell On Me, was released in 2013 and her “I’ll Never Let You Go” peaked at number 23 on Billboard’s Adult R&B chart the following year. Along the way, she has worked with Quincy Jones and been mentored by Stevie Wonder.
There was one time when Frazier brought Wonder to tears. Years before the Lifetime movie was made, Frazier had been hired to work at a manufacturer’s convention in Anaheim. As part of her performance, she sang a Clark Sisters number.
“Stevie walked by and he started crying because it reminded him of his mother,” Frazier says. “Growing up in Detroit with the Clark Sisters, they were all cut from the same cloth. His mother loved the Clark Sisters.”
Her connection to Stevie Wonder is in perfect harmony with her playing one of the Clark Sisters as they were heavily inspired by him. One of the reasons the Clark Sisters found success outside the gospel music world was that their music was influenced by a wide range of genres.
“Twinkie Clark, who was the songwriter, producer, arranger for the group, loved all music. As you see in the film, she tries to figure it out that it’s OK to be this totally churched up woman who does love Steve Wonder,” Frazier says. “She was ahead of her time in melding all of those different inspirations into the Clark Sister sound.”
This is the first full acting role for Frazier but she went into the project feeling more prepared for the challenges than anything else she has done in her life. That’s saying something because music has always been the driving force in her life.
Frazier was energized by being pushed out of her comfort zone but because she had no previous role for comparisons, there were moments when she had no frame of reference as to whether she was doing well or not.
“That was very humbling but it allowed me to grow and showed me that it was a beautiful experience to stretch myself,” Frazier says. “Music will continue to be my heart and soul but I caught the bug and I am really hoping more roles will come from this.”
The acting task was made easier because Frazier was able to talk for hours on the phone with Dorinda.
“I tell everyone she’s such a busy woman. She is the hardest working woman in the industry,” Frazier says. “She was so gracious after I got the role. She definitely gave me her time and I was able to ask all kinds of questions to really, really get inside of the stories and give a true betrayal of what was going on in certain scenes.”
“The Clark Sisters” ended up being a nearly perfect vehicle for Frazier. It combined her longtime passion for music with her new embrace of acting. The film gave her a chance to perform the Clark Sister music that she’s heard all her life. And, the cable production features the Lifetime approach of spotlighting strong women as actors, producers and directors.
“This story about these six women – five sisters and their mother – is really a powerful and historic kind of moment for film,” Frazier says.
Along with Frazier, the cable film features: Christina Bell as Twinkie; Kierra Sheard as Karen; Raven Goodwin as Denise; and Angela Birchett as Jacky. “The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel” premieres at 8 p.m. April 11 on Lifetime.