Musical dynasties are a rare occurrence, and even more uncommon in gospel. Yet Kierra Sheard is the rare artist who’s not just talented, but also the continuation of a lineage of musical greats: She is granddaughter of seminal gospel figurehead Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, and the daughter of Rev. J. Drew Sheard, and Karen Clark-Sheard, a founding member of the legendary Clark Sisters. Kierra then, in many ways personifies the future of gospel music.
A native of Detroit, Sheard of course grew up in church. At just six, “Kiki,” as she was called, started singing in the choir at Greater Emmanuel Institutional Church of God in Christ, where her father served as pastor. Early on, Sheard displayed a seemingly innate ability to execute the signature “Clark sound,” filled with strong runs and soulful groans.
At 10, Kiki was singing alongside her mom on “The Will of God,” the show-stopper from Karen Clark’s 1997 solo debut, Finally Karen. For that she earned her first trophy: a Stellar Award for Best Children’s Performance. Kiki performed with her mom several more times, and by 2003 she’d created enough of a demand that a bidding war erupted between record companies in hopes of signing her. Her debut, I Owe You, was released in 2004 on EMI Gospel.
While Sheard’s premiere was proof that she’d continue her family’s legacy, it was equally her own, reflecting the sound of a new generation influenced by hip-hop, neo-soul and secular r&b. Exuberant and youthful, the album’s pop influences were strengthened by appearances of such people as Rodney Jerkins, Mary Mary and Tonex. The album seized the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Gospel chart and also performed well on the R&B/Hip-Hop chart, peaking at No. 29. Sheard was now a bona fide crossover success, allowing her to minister to a wider audience.
If her debut made her a crossover, her remix album, Just Until, in 2005, moved her out of any last box. Meant initially to whet her fan’s appetites for more music until her next project — hence the name — the project peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard Gospel chart. Additionally, the album became a monster hit internationally, especially in Japan, where it remained on r&b charts for weeks.
Her second album, This Is Me, came in 2006. That, too, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Gospel chart, and earned her a Grammy nomination.
In recent years, Sheard has embarked on important personal journeys. She began pursuing degrees in English and entertainment law at Detroit’s Wayne State University, and started a youth organization called Bold Right Life. In November of 2008, Sheard dropped her third studio album, Bold Right Life, which entered at No. 3 on Billboard’s Top Gospel Albums chart, stamping the princess of the Clark-Sheard family as an important artist in her own right.
Oh, and another thing: she is no longer Kiki.
“I’m a woman now,” Sheard told Billboard. “I want people to hear what I have to say when I minister and not think of me as a little girl.”