‘Clark Sisters’ Star Sheléa Releases Empowerment Single “You Are Enough” – Exclusive Interview
Fresh off the heels of her acting debut in “The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel,” R&B/Soul artist Sheléa announces her highly anticipated single “You Are Enough,” available today. The biopic, produced by Queen Latifah, Mary J Blige and Missy Elliot, debuted on April 11 as the highest rated original movie debut of the year on all of television with 2.7 million total viewers. To date, the film has reached over 13 million, and is steadily rising. The film’s soundtrack entered the Billboard Gospel Album Charts at #8*.
Sheléa is a powerhouse vocalist that is the epitome of class and style. That, along with her impeccably impressive background in music made her the prefect choice to portray The Clark Sisters’ ‘Rose of Gospel,’ Dorinda Clark-Cole.
She began as a songwriter/vocalist with legendary producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Her early career experience led to writing and producing for Chanté Moore’s album Love the Woman and recording vocals on major motion picture soundtracks for Hotel Rwanda, Akeelah and the Bee and Be Cool. In addition, Sheléa composed and performed the theme song “Love Fell On Me” for SONY’s Jumping the Broom(2011) starring Angela Bassett and wrote for the CW series Black Lightening.
Sheléa’s debut album Love Fell On Me was released in 2014, featuring heavyweights Stevie Wonder, Brian McKnight and Narada Michael Walden. The single “I’ll Never Let You Go”hit #22 on the Billboard R&Bcharts and charted for 22+ weeks.
The unparalleled songwriter/pianist is intent on bringing back organic singing and songwriting, blending traditional pop, jazz, R&B and soul, as she evokes the sultry energy of Whitney Houston and the piano chops and writing prowess of Alicia Keys.
With “You Are Enough,” Sheléa hopes to inspire listeners with a strong message of empowerment.
I had the honor of speaking with R&B/Soul artist Sheléa to discuss her acting debut in the movie “The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel,” what it was like to portray the legendary Dorinda Clark-Cole in the film, and her new single, “You Are Enough,”
Take a look at our chat below.
Now in the movie you play the Clark sister that is affectionately known as the Rose of Gospel, Dorinda Clark-Cole. How did you prepare for that role, and how did you feel when you got the news that you were chosen for it?
I remember feeling excited because even before we even set foot on set, I knew that this was going to be a special film because it was historic. It was a movie being made about Gospel artists who happen to be black women. And I thought, “Wow, what an opportunity to tell these incredible stories.” So I was definitely excited, but I was overwhelmed too, because I had never done anything of this magnitude before. I had a little small role in this film called ‘All the Way’, but with this film, I was going to be one of the stars in it. And so that was overwhelming.
The first thing I did was get an acting coach. She prepared me in a way I can’t even express. I’ve been singing for so many years, and I was going into something where I really had no frame of reference, because acting is a craft.
Yes, I was playing the singer, and the singing part I felt confident about, but the acting I wanted to make sure I nailed it. And of course, talking with Dorinda Clark-Cole, that really helped me get to the core of what she truly was feeling at different moments throughout the film. And so that was really helpful.
Dorinda is known for her distinct uplifting singing voice, and her powerful preaching, and you worried about nailing it – you absolutely nailed it in the movie!
Aw, thank you.
You did! You did a wonderful job! But you’re no stranger to singing or inspiring people. In fact, you’ve performed at the White House with Stevie wonder for President Obama, Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, and even at the Grammy Salute to Tina Turner. In addition to studying and spending time with Dorinda Clark-Cole, did you channel any of your previous performances to portray your singing portion of Dorinda’s role?
That’s such a great question. I didn’t really think about that because I was so focused on her, but I would have to imagine that yes, everyone that I’ve been able to honor and have been a part of my life, I would imagine that they all kind of played a part in just what I brought to this role.
But I was so focused on her because she has such a unique and specific way of singing and performing, and her body movements, and even her mic placement, and all of that. So, I wanted to be clear that this is exactly the way Dorinda does it. And so, I couldn’t mimic her because I can’t sound exactly like her, but I definitely wanted to channel her and use very similar placements in just how she uses her rasp, and how she attacks her notes and the types of runs that she chooses to do. I’m glad that that was came through on screen.
The scene where Dorinda was on the bridge. That was such a powerful and emotional scene and you did a wonderful job with it. You could feel the connection of the words that you were speaking in that moment. You could tell that you really wanted the viewers of the movie to feel not only what Dorinda was going through in that moment, but the power of God as well as her strength and encouragement, through the screen. What did you draw from to pull that particular scene off?
I just got goosebumps just hearing you talk about that, because that’s exactly what I was wanting in that moment. I remember we shot that scene at night. It was in Toronto in the middle of probably one of the most brutal winters they had. I want to say it was either zero or two-below that night. It was so cold. But I remember, there was a lot of things that I was thinking about, but I think the one thing that was on my spirit and on my mind was something that I saw my mom experience. And that was her not making it to my grandmother, her mother, before she died, even though she asked God if He would just keep her alive until she got there. And she passed right before she got there.
So that moment is a type of heartbreak of when you are believing God to do something, and you have all of the faith, and you know Him and He’s your friend and you have this relationship. And yet you feel that He disappointed you. And it feels unfair, and it’s isolating, because, even growing up churched, I know there’s certain things you’re not even supposed to even say about God. You know? So just even the fact that He could even disappoint you, that, sometimes, in some circles, feels sacrilegious, like you’re not even supposed to utter that.
My mother got through it, but I remember the hurt and disappointment, and just feeling like that was such a small request [to God], you know? I used that memory to express what I believed Dorinda was feeling when she was believing God to heal her mother, and she needed her so desperately and just feeling like God didn’t answer that prayer. It brought her to the point of just not even wanting to continue on.
And I also channeled what I believe for my mother is the prayers of her mother and all the conversations that they had when she was living about staying in the Word, and keeping that connection to God, and that got my mother out of that. And I believe it was prayer that got Dorinda off that bridge; and reminding herself of that verse that she starts to say in the movie, almost as an affirmation. “Neither height, nor depth can separate you from the love of God.” Even though I feel so far right now, I feel like I’m not hearing it, I am still believing and trusting that Your love is going to continue to keep me. As we know, Dorinda’s song, “I Am Still Here” was written out of that experience.
Karen Clark Sheard was portrayed by her very own daughter Kierra Sheard. How was it to have Kierra on set knowing that this is the niece of Dorinda Clark-Cole, and the granddaughter of Mattie Moss Clark? What was it like to work with her?
Kierra was so graceful. I do remember telling her early on I said, if you feel pressure, just let us know. If we’re kind of bombarding you with questions. And she said no, she loved it and, and she would go and she would talk with her mom. It was really sweet to see her be able to honor her mom in that way. I thought it was beautiful.
Yes it was. Just to know that here’s Kierra portraying her mother and grew up experiencing the legacy of The Clark Sisters in the making firsthand, but yet here you are portraying Dorinda, Karen’s sister, you were able to hold your own in your debut film. So that lets you know how much of an awesome job that you did.
That means so much for you to say that. Thank you so much. I approached it wanting to do my best, but I think what feels good right now is that in these times, which we never imagined that we would be, that the movie would come out in the middle of a pandemic. You know where everybody is forced to stay at home, but it’s almost like God knew that this would be needed at this time.
Many people have told me that they love the music and the story, and it ends in such a triumphant way. It just shows that you can go through domestic abuse, you can go through financial hardship and sibling rivalry and just issues in family and as long as you hold on to God, you can come out of this on the other side. This message of hope is just so timely, and I’m just beyond grateful to be part of that narrative right now, going through these unprecedented times right now.
With everything that you have going on right now, how are you balancing your work life with self-care and keeping yourself inspired, especially during this time of Covid19?
That’s such a good question. I think like millions of people around the world, I’m figuring it out day by day. I have days where I feel so good and hopeful, and then there’s other days where even it’s hard to get out of bed and I feel tired and lethargic and I’m watching TV. I just try to find that balance.
I think what makes me feel so good about being involved with the virtual concerts right now is that I feel like I’m able to be a vessel that God can use to just give people a little cheer because it’s so needed right now. And so that keeps me going. That gives me just such a warmth inside to know that I get to do what I was created to do and what I love to do and that it’s actually impacting people.
I also try to make a schedule too. I found that has helped. I’ve gotten into a little routine. I go and walk the park, I’ll go out in my patio and read for a little bit and then get something to eat. Just having a little bit of structure to my day that helps the days be a little bit more meaningful. Because it was just at a point where it’s like Friday and Saturday might as well be Tuesday. Like one big day. I’ve been doing a lot of filming for zoom, virtual interviews or things like that, it does make me have to get ready for the day. That’s a sort of self-care for me.
Finding those new ways to incorporate self-care in exchange of things that we’re used to doing is a big plus. It helps out a lot. I thank you for sharing that because there’s so many people out there who are still trying to find those ways to do that with the stay home orders and social distancing.
Your desire to empower people through your talents and be a vessel is continuing on. You have a new single titled, ‘You Are Enough.’ What inspired you to write and release that song?
Last year, God gave me this idea to put affirmations to music and call them “Songfirmations.” But it was just an idea I had, and I literally forgot about it. I wrote some ideas of what I would say in my notes. This was like September of 2019.
So fast forward: I’ve been touring, I’ve been doing all kind of stuff, just busy running, running, running, running, and 2020 comes along. And it’s January… I remember the date exactly, it was January 12th, and a good friend of mine, Steve Octave, he was like, “So why don’t you to come over? We’ll just hang out and listen to music and stuff.” And so I did, and he started playing a little vibe on the guitar. So I was playing around with musical ideas, we were just humming melodies, and all of a sudden God brought to my memory that ‘Songfirmations’ idea. And I said, “You know, I had this idea last year. I would love to see if I should put a vibe on it. Let me look through my notes and see what I said.” So, in the notes from the previous year said, “You are enough.” On the spot, I just created these two lines; “You are enough, you have everything you need to succeed.” And then I repeat that, and I tell them to say, “Now you say it; I am enough. I have everything I need to succeed. It’s already in you, so make your dreams come true.” That’s literally the whole song.
So I’m thinking this is just a vibe, so I shared on Instagram, “This is what I did today.” And the response was enormous. People started covering it all over the world, preschoolers were doing it, mothers were singing it to their children before they went to school. And Grammy week happened, and I ended up doing this presentation called ‘Backstage With Shelea’ at the Grammy Museum. They had some students that came in and I shared it with them, and the Recording Academy ended up writing this beautiful article about it.
Even before it came out, there was already so much good vibes surrounding it, and I was like, “I think I need to make this a single. It’s not even a song, a verse, chorus, bridge. It’s nothing like that, but it’s just a vibe.” So Steve and I, we ended up recording it in the studio, in late February, right before I started my tour, and then we got it mixed, and here we are.
It’s crazy how timing is everything. And I do believe that God’s timing is perfect. Right now I think that people are feeling so isolated, and so lonely, and scared and anxious, and really feeling down and depressed, and so this is just the opportunity for all of us to speak over ourselves, and speak that message into our spirit, into our psyche, of just reminding ourselves that we are enough and we have everything that we need to succeed. And of course as a believer, obviously I’m getting that strength from God.
I’m so grateful that it’s really, really touching people. Now we’ve got the You Are Enough Challenge, and people have been sending me their covers in droves. I’m excited to see how this song is going to make an impact on everyone.
How wonderful is that to get that confirmation of the overwhelming response for something that you know that God gave you to do? How amazing is that?
Yes. Absolutely. It’s one of those things like, ‘this can’t be my life, to have actually found my passion and then be able to actually exist in it.’ And then not only be able to exist in it, but then it actually resonates, you know? It really is a blessing that I am daily grateful for.
Do you plan to release more of your ‘Songfirmations?’ Because the world certainly needs them right now.
It’s so funny you say that because the same guy that I worked with that did the music for this, he just sent me a track today. He said, “Another Songfirmation?” And I listened to it and I was like, “Oh, I love this.” It’s a similar vibe, just really simple, and organic and beautiful.
I would love to do a “Songfirmations, Volume One,” of just various messages and songs that people go to for when they need to be uplifted. I would absolutely love to do more of that. And I have other songs too I’ve been working on, some in the R&B area, about relationships, about life – different things that we all go through – with heartbreak, and not falling into habitual toxic relationships.
There’s a song that I wrote a couple of months ago called ‘Out Of Time,’ as in, “Honey, you just ran out of time because you know what, today I woke up and I’m not going to deal with this anymore.” These are other songs that I would love to be able to release at some point as well. But yes, I would love to do more “Songfirmations.”
You have been in this industry for a long time. You previously worked as a songwriter and vocalist with the legendary producers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, as well as Take 6. But you’ve also created songs for motion picture soundtracks. Now was there a difference between creating songs for albums versus movies for you? Was the creative process the same for both, or was it a little different?
For Jumping The Broom where I wrote Love Fell On Me, that song already existed and so the director, Salim Akil, he just loved that song right away and ended up using it as a score for the film, and it became the theme for the characters, Jason and Sabrina in the film. But I have written for another film. I just watched the film, and then just what I felt, my heart leaned to what melodically, and even thematically, what I was seeing. It was directly based on what I was seeing.
So I would say yes, my approach is always going to be the same in terms of finding the right melody and finding the right lyric. But sometimes when I’m just writing music, it could be for anybody, but when it’s for a film or television it’s very, very specific because I like to make it so it’s tailor-made, and it feels like it was made for that. I like to bring that same kind of specificity to a song or a melody by what I’m seeing visually.
When you look over the history of your work, even with your new song, You Are Enough, you can tell that that’s part of your process – that you’re very passionate about bringing that into light, and making sure that people can directly identify, for whatever movie they’re watching, or for that particular artist, or even right now for the “You Are Enough” single, for the times that we’re going through right now. You can feel that in your music, in your talent.
Wow. Thank you. Thank you so much.
In this time of COVID-19 and living in uncertainty, what message of hope would you like to give to people to the world right now?
I’ve seen a lot of programming that says, “We’re in this together.” But I think even before COVID-19, when you hear certain people talk about certain issues that maybe a lot of people didn’t talk about before, the biggest thing that they walk away with is that, “I wasn’t alone in this.”
When you’re going through certain things, sometimes you feel like you’re the only one who’s going through this. When you hear someone else going through the same thing, it reminds you that you’re not alone. So I would say to those who are feeling depressed, and frustrated, and overwhelmed, just knowing that you’re not alone makes you almost feel like you’re not crazy, like this isn’t just you. It’s not that you don’t have enough, or you’re not enough, or you’re just not strong, or you’re just not disciplined, or you’re… Just lets you know that, “Wow, I’m not the only one going through this.”
I’m just speaking now for myself. I have had a number one movie in the country, a new single on the way. There’s a lot of good things happening in my life right now. I’m meeting with agents for more film opportunities. So I am excited. If anybody should be super happy and over the moon all of the time, it should be me. But even with all of that, I have my days where I just feel low, and tired, and just wanting this to be over. So I can’t even imagine for some people who don’t have just kind of the excitement of a movie and all this other stuff that they’re feeling.
I would just say… I know I’m saying kind of a lot, but I feel like as humans, it’s so important for us to realize that we all put our pants on the exact same way, one leg and then the other. Social media, we’re looking and we’re comparing. Even in how people are handling this, we see so many people who are using this time to be so positive, and they’re developing businesses. I think that’s so incredible. Now is the time. But some people are just barely making it, and they’re just like, “Just the fact that I’m alive to see another day, that should be a victory for some people who are truly going through it.”
So I would say: number one, don’t compare yourself. Realize that we are all experiencing this so differently. Number two, It’s okay to feel what you’re feeling. And three, to just look up. Just look up and realize that God has the whole world in his hands, and that includes you.
Amen. Amen. I appreciate you sharing your story, your personal story and journey with me. Because it’s something that people need to hear right now, that we’re all connected, and we really are all in this together. We may be at different levels of life or going through different things individually, but as a whole, we really are all connected.
The world just needs to know that right now, and know that they’re never alone. God is always with them. And they are always enough in any situation. Even once we get out of this pandemic, they will still always be enough. And they will still always have everything that they need. Even if it’s just like you said, the blessing of just waking up in the morning, they will still have everything that they need. So I appreciate you sharing your story and your journey with us for that.
What’s next for you from here?
Well, we’re all kind of at a standstill right now. Even on the film side, the productions have halted. I can’t necessarily get signed off to do projects as of yet.
These days, I’m just finding new ways to connect with my fans from home. I’ve just been doing a lot of music, virtual concerts. There have been tour dates set for later on this year. But again, we really don’t know. We’ve been pushing that dates back, and so we’re taking a ‘wait and see’ kind of approach. But I would love to do more acting. I would love to get back on the road and tour again.
It will happen. One song that I love in this moment, in addition to yours, is Kierra’s ‘It Keeps Happening For Me.’ If you combine your song with It Keeps Happening For Me, I’m speaking both of those songs over your life right now for when all of this is over. What you have given to the world through The Clark Sisters Movie and with your music, God will surely return it to you tenfold. Stay encouraged.
Oh goodness. Oh man. I received that. I received that. Thank you so much. I pray the same over you in your life as well.