Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tennessee Mass Choir celebrates 25 years in honor of its founder

Jason T. Clark (center), choral director for The Tennessee Mass Choir, assumed the role
after the death of his mother, Fannie Mae Cole Clark, in 2013. (Courtesy photos)
Jason T. Clark gets a little emotional when he talks about his mother and her arduous job of corralling a group of singers and fine-tuning their voices into a melodic blend of traditional and contemporary gospel music.
“It definitely makes me emotional to know that she taught us so well to the point that we have the ability to carry out exactly what she placed in us,” said Clark. “We haven’t missed a beat for the last two years.”
The beat will go on Sunday, Nov. 15, when Clark pays tribute to his late mother, Fannie Mae Cole Clark, and when The Tennessee Mass Choir, the choral group she founded in 1990, celebrates its 25th anniversary at First Baptist Church-Broad, 2835 Broad Ave.
Hosted by Michael Adrian Davis of 95.7 Hallelujah FM, the concert will start at 5 p.m. Special guest artists include Karen Brown, Everett McBee, Tara Clark, Tabitha Adams, and more. The concert is free and open to the public. 
Mrs. Clark, who once led The Fannie Clark Singers prior to founding the TMC, died in 2013. She’d become an integral part of the local gospel music scene and was regarded as the quintessential choirmaster.
Fannie Mae Cole Clark
She was such a giant in everything she did,” said Clark, who now presides over the choir. “I get emotional even just thinking about the fact of…first of all…this being a milestone of 25 years of something that she built, even though she’s no longer here with us.”
Mrs. Clark led, directed and promoted the TMC, using wit and personality to bring attention to the choir and her ministry. She was a one-woman, public relations guru, who would ferry press releases and photos to the media and follow up with a kind word.
She was determined to catapult the choir to the “big stage,” on which they’d eventually share with nationally known gospel recording artists such as Fred Hammond, John P. Kee and Shirley Caesar. They’ve also performed at upscale events such as the Titanic Exhibition, the Memphis Sunset Symphony, and the Southern Governor’s Regional Convention.
“She prepared us well,” said Clark, one of his mother’s four children. The Rev. Derek Clark, pastor of Rejoice in the Covenant Church in Memphis, is the eldest, followed by Mignonette Clark Durham of Carrollton, Texas, Jackie B. Clark, and the youngest, Jason Clark.
“We’re (the TMC) like a well-oiled machine…a level of professionalism that she instilled in us, a level of service, a level of community. It’s not just in me as a leader, but it’s in all of us. We’re like a big happy family.”
The “family” consists of 35 members, in addition to the seven or eight choir members Clark added after he took over as choral director. He brought on new members, he explained, to expand the choir and to take them farther in ministry than where his mother had taken them, including adding to their repertoire of songs.
“We are very, very diverse. We do everything from down home gospel to praise and worship to inspirational to spirituals and a cappella numbers. And we do contemporary songs,” said Clark. “That’s why over these 25 years we’ve been able to reach so many ages and be relevant to the times.”
The people who attend the TMC concerts are as young as nine and as old as 90, he said. “There is something for everybody…something that everybody can relate to. Again, that’s just a testament of who my mother was.”
Leadership is also important, said Clark, adding that each member of the TMC is just as capable as he is when representing the choir and ministering to God’s people. His mother, he said, had set the example.
“All of us can lead in our respective communities,” said Clark. “I just know within my heart that she would be proud because of the simple fact that we’re really carrying out the legacy exactly the way that she taught us. We haven’t deviated at all.”
Clark said his mother had never met a stranger that she didn’t feel good talking to and vice versa. “As a ministry, that’s what we aspire to do even in our music. We want you to be able to experience our concert and walk away from it knowing that there was something that we sang or something that we said or spoken that inspired you.”
That’s what Clark intends to do when the TMC unleashes a plethora of songs in concert. The audience can expect a spirit-filled afternoon, Clark said, when the Holy Spirit shows up.  And in the coming months, the choir will rev up the spirit once again when they start recording for a new album.
Clark said he and his mother had talked about recording two years ago. She had given the album a name. “I was like, ‘We already have a name for the record: Timeless Message, New Revelations.’ The thing that I’m carrying out is…all of the things that we talked about…”
Music is in the family’s blood, said Clark, recalling one of his fondest memories as a child when he cap-napped on an amplifier while The Fannie Clark Singers were in concert. He was a willing musician, but he couldn’t keep his eyes open.
“I was about six years old,” said Clark. “And back then I used to play the tambourine. I would sleep on the amp during the concert and then wake up and start back playing the tambourine. I was always around it (music).”
The enthusiasm that Clark had shown then will be amped up as chorale director, which he plans to channel when The Tennessee Mass Choir celebrates its 25th anniversary and pays tribute to its founder, Fannie Mae Cole Clark.
To learn more about The Tennessee Mass Choir, go to www.tnmass.org. For concert information, contact Jason Clark at (901) 503-4611 or email him at jclark@tnmass.org.  

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