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Gospel singer Kierra Sheard

Asserts her independence on a high-energy new album


Kierra Sheard says her new disc gave her a forum to sing about and rise above the private issues she has battled.By Kelly Carter

Special from Detroit Free Press


Kierra Sheard knows exactly who she is. And soon, so will the many fans who have been listening to the burgeoning gospel diva ever since her mother, famed Clark Sisters singer and gospel music innovator Karen Clark Sheard, featured a 10-year-old Kierra singing on two tracks from her 1997 solo debut album.

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The newly engaged, fairly recent Wayne State University graduate has an album coming that features a sound that is more urban while retaining some worship flavor. “Free” will be her first on the family’s successful label, Karew Records.


On her best-selling 2006 debut album, “This is Me,” Kierra Sheard was with EMI Gospel; now that label is the distributor for the family’s label. The change was made to give Sheard more creative control, and it was years in the making. Her mother had a No. 3 debut on the gospel charts in 2010 on Karew, and Sheard is hoping for comparable success with her new project, which hits stores next month and is available for pre-order this week. The first single, “You Are,” was released in August.


“It’s high-energy,” Sheard, 24, says of the album. “I’ve always been a worshiper, especially once I started traveling more on my own. I love worshiping; everybody calls me a crybaby when it comes time for me to worship God. I just like that intimate worship, and I believe worship is a lifestyle. So whenever I sing, it gets me into the presence of God. I’m jumping around the stage, swinging my hair. … I (was) raised in the church, born on the pew. So you’ll hear that churchy sound, that old-school church sound. Just a little bit of it. We keep it balanced.”


Balance is the operative word when reflecting on Sheard’s decision to follow her mother into the gospel-music business — and as she further asserts her own artistic inclinations.


“I don’t want it to seem or sound as though I’m saying somebody made me do something that I didn’t want to do,” she says. “This is just all me growing into my womanhood and understanding who I wanted to be, as a disciple of Christ, while God used me.”


Her mother says it’s been amazing to see her growth.


“She initially didn’t want to sing … so I took the risk and pushed her,” says Karen Clark Sheard. “She may not have liked it — and I was skeptical because I didn’t want to push her to do something she didn’t want to do — but when I heard her sing, I was like, ‘Here it is.’ I didn’t want to be held responsible for a gift that God has given her and not take it to where it should be.”


A struggle to be free


The symbolism in naming the album “Free” is rich. For starters, Sheard does what her mother and aunts did so famously in the Clark Sisters: take church music and make it accessible to a mainstream ear.


The album is also a full collaboration with her younger brother, J. Drew Sheard II, who produced the project. Together, the siblings create a funky spin on worship music and deliver a Destiny’s Child-like take on Gospel.


It’s a slight departure from Sheard’s critically acclaimed first release, which debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s gospel album chart in 2006 and was one of the best-selling gospel albums of that year. “Free” has a more contemporary edge.


Some of the change can be traced to Sheard’s 2008 “God in Me” collaboration with gospel greats Mary Mary. The song had a notable effect outside the gospel world, peaking at No. 5 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. Sheard says she’s picking up where that hit left off.


“Free” also has a very personal meaning.


“I’ve never wrestled in my mind so much as I have around the time of when I was writing this record,” she says. “I really had to get to a place where I had to ask God to free me in my mind because the enemy can use your mind. … So I began to have the prayer of being free in my mind, being free in my heart and just wanting to be free so I can really not just be a church-going girl, but really live the Christ-like life and really know the character of God.”


Sheard says that even though she grew up the child of two of Detroit’s preeminent spiritual leaders — her father is J. Drew Sheard, minister of Greater Emmanuel Institutional Church of God in Christ on Detroit’s west side — she has faced her own private battles.


“Sometimes we’ll go through hard times and we’ll think that we’re the only person dealing with it, when no, there are millions of other people around this world probably battling with the same thing,” she says.


“So I wanted to put in my music freedom … from dysfunctional relationships (and) from what you may have done or gone through behind closed doors that you may have kept in secret. So those are the things that I wanted to put in my music because so many of us in the church, we’ve been taught to pacify our issues rather than deal with them, and a lot of the people that aren’t in the church, they see those things and they run away from it. I just wanted to be free and really grow.”


In other words, this new sound is inspirational. Also inspiring this new sound is her recent engagement to Welton T. Smith IV, pastor and founder of Detroit’s New Life Family Church. Sheard says romantic love has changed her music.


“I’ve never been so free emotionally with what’s in my heart; I’ve never been so happy. On this record I just, I really just have wanted to inspire people to just be free and get to know the voice of God for yourself. It played a huge role in my music and what I’m gonna sing and how I am singing,” she says of her engagement. “Now I have this confidence that I’ve never had before. And I really feel like God loves me through this man that I’m engaged to. So yes, I have to say me being engaged and me having this relationship with the man that I’ll choose to spend the rest of my life with, it makes me feel free.”


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