Donald Lawrence talks about being MD for Clark Sisters movie, offers advice for artists dealing with COVID-19, the release of Goshen & more!
Clearly possessing the “midas touch”, Lawrence is celebrated by both the entertainment industry and music fans alike, for his dedication to excellence, his creative fervor and his commitment to the legacy of Christian music. BlackGospel caught up with one of the genre’s true influencers to discuss how he’s navigating through these precarious times, his feedback on ‘The First Ladies’ and what makes Motown, the city, so special.
Christopher Heron: How are you managing through this pandemic health crisis? What are some activities that you’re employing in this quiet season?
Donald Lawrence: I’m pretty much an introvert, so staying at home hasn’t been a problem but I do like to get out, get some fresh air. I’ve been watching TV, catching up on some work, doing some writing. Every day, I try to exercise, or I’ll get in my car and just take a drive.
That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing. Just realizing as much as I am an introvert, there is a part of me who does like to be social. I miss hanging out with my friends, but I’m making sure I adhere to what they’ve asked us to do. I’m a germaphobe so everything works for me. I’ve been inside since March 14th.
Christopher Heron: You’ve always been a proponent for artists to manage their affairs with wisdom and professionalism. How do you think artists are coping with not performing, and what advice would you offer them?
Donald Lawrence: I think this is a learning curve for us all. As much as you can try to plan, I’ve never seen a time when the entire world could not do anything. I don’t know if anybody can plan for this. I do think that this is the time where if you’re not working, residual income really comes in handy. I think moving forward, everybody will really try to make sure they have multiple streams of income. You don’t realize how much our profession depends on servicing people. I think it’s been an eye-opening experience for everyone.
Christopher Heron: Congratulations on all your success with the release of Goshen, including the hit song Deliver Me. My personal favorite song from the album has been Jehovah Sabaoth featuring Brittany Stewart, daughter of Tri-city Singers original member, the late Robin Rowe-Stewart. Why did you personally elect to use Brittany for that single?
Donald Lawrence: You must know our history. Robin was like a sister to me. We were in 1st grade together. Robin was also in my very first singing group in 10th grade. It was me, Robin, and Maria Howell who was the choir soloist in the movie, The Color Purple. Robin has always been a part of anything I musically did. I would write songs and Robin would lead them.
When I stumbled across Brittany singing online, I was like, “Oh my goodness, it’s almost the same voice.” I know that voice. It’s just eerie. So for me it’s a beautiful way of healing for me, losing Robin so early. It’s been beautiful to see Brittany stretch artistically. Her siblings can sing well, too. She’s already great, raw talent but getting the experience to be out on the road with me; it’s causing her to grow so fast. It’s something I know Robin would have wanted me to do as well, so it’s healing for me.
Christopher Heron: How did you become the Musical Producer of the movie?
Donald Lawrence: Dr. Holly Carter reached out to me about doing the music for the movie. She produced the film. Her company is Releve Entertainment. She introduced Lifetime to me and probably talked with the director, Christine Swanson. I just know The Clark Sisters. I’m a fan and they know I wouldn’t let them down. I did all the musical performances.
The score was done by someone else. Originally, the Clark Sisters were supposed to do all the vocals and the artists were supposed to lip sync, but Christine Swanson said she hates lip-syncing, so she asked if I could train the actors to sing as The Clark Sisters. Once I studied who was there and understood their voices, I felt I could give it a shot. What you’re getting is the actresses singing all the songs.
Christopher Heron: From your perspective, did the script, the acting, and the storyline do justice to The Clark Sisters?
Donald Lawrence: I think so. I think the movie could’ve been a two-day series because there’s so much story there. It’s advantageous to get a movie inside an hour and 45 minutes, but it could have been a two-day premier or a four-hour miniseries. People will learn a lot about The Clark Sisters. The people that have seen the movie absolutely love it. The music performances are great and sometimes you can’t even tell that it’s not The Clark Sisters.
Part of The Clark Sister’s narrative is Twinkie Clark‘s musicianship as an organist, how she played it. If you don’t have that sound and style, you take something away from their legacy. I did a lot of research and went back and recreated that sound from back-in-the-day. That sound on the organ really takes you back to the late 70’s and 80’s. I’m proud of that detail because I wanted you to feel what I felt, growing up as a kid. A lot of the story is in that era. The movie doesn’t move into the 2000’s.
Christopher Heron: What’s been the biggest contribution to Gospel music by the Clark Sisters?
Donald Lawrence: I think their unique creativity. There was no limit to it. How they sing, their, their song content, their approach to each song. They didn’t go straight down the middle. Twinkie is a genius. I will always be a fan of hers. I think The Clark Sisters showed you that you can be authentically you, which I think a lot of Gospel artists from that time were. Andrae Crouch, Edwin & Walter Hawkins, The Winans, all of them were authentic. They all showed you how to be uniquely you and it still worked. That’s what I love about that era.
Christopher Heron: There were three things in my opinion that really contributed to who the Clark Sisters’ were. Detroit, The Church of God in Christ (COGIC) and Mattie Moss Clark. Could you speak to those three elements?
Donald Lawrence: There must be something in the water because the singing in Detroit at that time…I was privileged to attend a couple of those musicals when Rance Allen, Shirley Murdock, The Clark Sisters, and Vanessa Bell Armstrong were all on the same stage, there was Rudolph Stanfield and Thomas Whitfield too, it was unbelievable.
Of course, the Church of God in Christ was a big organization and I think Dr. Mattie Moss Clark made sure that the church knew her daughters. That was a great move, very smart. This story really tells you how resilient and strong she was. That’s one of the things that I get out of the movie. She was a powerful woman, a boss in a man’s world. She handled it. You’ve got to respect her. I respect her more after watching the movie just the power she was determined that her daughters would get to shine. It’s beautiful.
Christopher Heron: What are the takeaways for you from watching this movie?
Donald Lawrence: I think one of the takeaways is that we’ve all had challenges. Just because someone sings well and have number one songs doesn’t mean they don’t have family issues. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have ups and downs. Just because we’re on TV, doesn’t make us any better or different from anyone else.
You get to see that at the end of the day, they’re still a family like anyone else, having family challenges like everyone else but family sticks together and when you stick together this is the beauty that happens. I do think that they’ll walk away with all that honestly. You’ll see yourselves, especially if you’re a musical family. All musical families are going to see some element of themselves in the movie.