Jamaican Music Music Interviews

Claudelle Clarke-A Pioneer of Jamaican Gospel Music:Celebrating 41 years of Music.

The past four decades have marked the rise of Christian fundamentalist “The Queen of Reggae Gospel”, Claudelle Clarke. This period manifested the distinctive and pioneering talent encapsulated in Ms. Claudelle Clarke, who hails from the parish of Kingston, Jamaica.  Claudelle attributes her musical talent and initial musical socialization to her family, particularly, her parents Linda and Joslyn Clarke.

 In spite of her talent being girded in the pedigree and bequest of her lineage, at the age of 60, Claudelle insists that the gift she possesses transcends the fictional silhouette of just fame and fortune.  Indeed, her sojourn reflects those earlier periods in Claudelle’s life which were merely a ritualistic practice of Christianity until she came into a deeper intimacy with her God.  As a result, to date, Claudelle carries a mantle of over 41 years of ministry, but quickly enlightens us that she started her career as a secular artist. Her secular experiences date back to her work at Studio One with Bob and Rita Marley, Peter Tosh, Alton Ellis to name a few.  Additionally, she sang back-up for the song “Sweet Beat Rocking Down Orange Street by Prince Busta at Treasure Aisle studio.

 Truly, Claudelle Clarke is remarkable.  Like so many of her contemporaries, Claudelle began her public singing platform in the church choir.  At six years old she sang on the Sunday School Choir of the New Testament Church of God, in Yallahs St. Thomas (Jamaica) along with her sisters Millicent and Carol Clarke.  It is no surprise therefore, that given the natural talent she was imbued with and the range of singing experiences she gained among her family members and within the church community, that Claudelle recorded her first hit single at the age of ten (10) years old. The hit was “Seven Days Make One Week” on the Treasure Isle Label and was done in collaboration with Stranger Cole.

 In reminiscing, Claudelle gives description to experiences she has had in earlier years of her ministry. She recounts an incident where she was the “guest artist” of a concert; yet was commissioned to pay her admission as a patron of the same gospel concert.  Additionally, she recalls being thrown off stage by a recognized Clergy who felt she was unworthy to perform because of her inappropriate hair style (Afro), which did not reflect the tenets of Christian virtue.  These experiences has honed her as a minister and as shaped her character with resilience. Thereafter, Claudelle’s musical career catapulted and has been unstoppable since. 

 After being re-commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ in 1968, Claudelle produced six songs “Just As I Am”, “He Touched Me”, “I Saw The Light”, “After All”, “God Is A Mountain” and “Not My Will”. These songs popularized her work and talent and have made her a household traditional Jamaican Gospel singer.Her calling, however, was not geographically bound; consequently, between 1983 and 1993 Claudelle’s ministry spanned the parameters of the Canadian landscape. During this period, her ministry focused on live performances. However by 1997, she reconvened her work in the recording studio. This occurred after Derrick Morgan spoke with Lloyd Campbell of the Joe Frasier Production Label.  The product was the dynamic and historically significant album “Reggae Songs of Praise”.  This album featured collaboration with Denzel Dennis. The “Prayer” and “Reggae Songs of Praise Vol. 2” were both distributed by VP Records. Additionally, Claudelle later produced solo albums “The Best of Claudelle Clarke” and “Live for Jesus”. As a result of her hit songs, she has received numerous incontestable awards such as the Life Time International Award and also was inducted into the IRAWMA Hall of Fame.

 World, brace yourself for Claudelle’s newest work of art “The Journey” produced by Hugh Campbell from the Studio Max Record Label. Showcased amongst the hits on this album is “It took a Miracle”  featuring Leroy Smith, former member of the original group‘The Grace Thrillers’.  Helping to create sounds resplendent of the reggae gospel genre with an African grounding is former Third World Drummer and Percussionist, William Stewart featured in “Freedom of Speech”, and also the renowned singer PaulWatson from the ‘Ambassabors’ giving a fantastic vocal collaboration in “Lord unto you”.

 Her music is spiritually motivating and uplifting. It has the power to get audiences on their feet every time, singing, clapping and praising the Lord together in unison. More importantly however, it acts as a catalyst that convicts the sin-sick soul to be transformed and motivates individuals to deepen their relationship with the Lord.  Evangelist Claudelle Clarke continues to avail herself to the work of the Lord through her inimitable style of music. She will continue singing in her unique original style, spreading praises throughout the world. ”The Queen of Reggae Gospel Lives“.

Biography written by Simone Williams/claudelleclarke.com

WELCOME to JAMAICANS.com Claudelle!!

1. Where are you currently residing?

In Georgia, US.

2. Tell us a little about your family.

Well, I have three kids (one boy and two girls) and six grandchildren; they are ‘the apple of my eye’! While growing up, my sisters and I used to sing together and we sang a lot at church and school. To this day, none of my siblings are Christians.  I am the only one amongst my siblings who is a Christian. I did my first recording when I was 14 years old.  It was not gospel. It was pop music. I never started out with gospel at all. I attended Sunday School, but my mother did not attend church. It was typical of Jamaican parents to send their children to Sunday School, but they do not attend. However, I must report that my mother is currently ‘saved’ and is a Christian. She lives in Florida. All members of my family are currently residing in Florida. My father died 20 years ago. It’s not a lovely thing to report, but he was an alcoholic.  My father was a good man, even though he made some mistakes and he chose to turn to the ‘bottle’.

3. You are currently a household name in Jamaica. Did you ever dream you would have been known as a ‘pioneer’ of Jamaican gospel music?

I would be lying if I said ‘no’. When I was growing up, we did not have any famous local gospel artists. Most of the artists who were famous in the Christian community were foreigners, like Pat Boone, Jim Nabor, etc.  As I recall, Otis Wright was the only Jamaican who was known for singing gospel. When I started to officially sing gospel music, I was going out and performing/ministering to people at various churches. This was a different route for a Jamaican gospel singer at that time. I would get in trouble all the time with my church leaders, because I was not allowed to leave my church and go to other churches and minister. But the thing is, I read my Bible and I received a different understanding of what ministry means. I understood that ministry suggests that one is not supposed to ‘sit in your church’. God did not forbid us to go to other churches, but He encouraged us to ‘GO’ and minister.  But my church-Church of God of Prophecy- was not having that at all. Therefore, in that sense, I broke every rule and law of my church. (laugh) They told me not to go, but I went. They frequently had church meetings with me and I was called forward many times, but I would not abide by their wishes, which a lot of people in my generation and time would not do. Those days people abide by what church rules say, but I read the Bible and I found out God says go out into the world and preach the gospel, not sit down in the church and preach the gospel.  I believe I have been instrumental in paving the way for local artists to have their local fame in music. I have been through a lot in the church; you would be surprised! You see, I was not a conformer and I believed that the message was not for me and a ‘certain’ group of people. It was for everyone. 

4. Can you tell us about your journey from the secular music arena to the gospel music arena? Was it a difficult process for you?

There were quite a few bands that I used to sing with in secular music-Ron Wilson and the Comets, Lintate Lyn originally from Trinidad. I was the senior vocalist in his band. I also performed with Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, Tommy McCook and Supersonics.

I was not attending church when I got saved. I did not want to go to church due to the hypocrisy that I saw in members of my own family who attended church.  I used to play tamborine for a cultural ‘boys and girls’ (chaka molawn it was called) group event in West Kingston sponsored by Mr. Seaga. Babsy Grange was part of it, and so was Desmond Mckenzie, Samuel Drackett and so forth.  It was at these events that I realized that Mr. Seaga was really great in terms of knowing and understanding the Jamaican culture in West Kingston. I think the Tivoli Garden Dancers group (and other well known cultural groups) was developed out these ‘chaka molawn’events. It was fun! Anyways, they all thought I was crazy when I got saved. It was really funny they thought I was crazy. 

I was baptized and I started to attend church on a regular basis, and I also began to minister in gospel music. People knew who I was before I got into church, because I had the ‘name’ in the ‘outside’ world.  So, transition was not particularly difficult for me. It was not a problem for me, in terms of people already knowing my sound and my music. The secular producers also knew me, so they were willing to produce my gospel albums when I switched over; they only thought I was crazy!

 5. Can you describe what it’s like for you to be singing gospel music as opposed to singing secular music? Is there a marked difference for you?

When I started doing secular music, I knew I could sing. I had a ‘big’ and ‘loud’ mouth.  When I got saved, I did not have a spiritual mentor to guide me. The one thing I wished was that I had started singing gospel way before then. Just watching people respond positively to the message in the gospel songs, were so worth the switch. Singing secular was like a ‘money thing’, but singing gospel is a ministry to me; a ministry that is so rewarding when you see people’s lives being changed.

6. So, you have recorded numerous albums throughout the years. Do you have a personal favorite album or favorite song from your own recordings?

My older recordings are my favorites; songs like ‘Around God’s Throne’, ‘After All’, ‘Almost Persuaded’, ‘Not my Will’ and ‘That’s Enough’. Their words meant a lot to me at that time so they are counted as favorites.  Another song that really meant a lot to me as a new Christian was ‘Just as I am’.  This was the first song I sang in church when I got saved.  Many people thought I did ‘Hurry Up’ but I did not popularize that song. Evangelist Higgins sang that song. 

7. Aside from singing, what other activities/hobbies do you enjoy doing?

I enjoy dancing, reading, and watching ‘comedy’ movies; I enjoy anything that makes me laugh.

 8. Do you think there are any differences in today’s Jamaican gospel music as opposed to Jamaican gospel music of two or three decades ago?

The only music I don’t really understand-yet- is the Christian dancehall with the Deejays. I don’t have a problem with this music trend at all. Just that I can’t understand what they are saying because they speak too fast or speak in terms I can’t understand. Old age, I guess (laugh).  But if people have changed their lives because of their music, then more power to them and I would encourage them to go for it! Why? Because everyone has their own way of ministering to people, and artists should not condemn other artists for the way they choose to minister in music. I will be the last one to condemn any music artist and say ‘this is not right’. Ministry is ministry, no matter the form it comes in.  Everyone has their own way of ministering. The only problem I find is that the Church has lost its ‘flavor’. It’s as if we are following the world, instead of the world patterning the church.  We are supposed to be the leader, but instead we are followers.

9. Now, who is the ‘Claudelle’ of today? Can you describe ‘Claudelle’ to me?

Same old-fashion Claudelle. Never change; still the same; what you see is what you get.(laugh)

10. What is your future plan regarding a new album?

Yes, I do have an album being released in September 2009 entitled ‘The Journey’. In fact, the ‘Album Launch’ event of my new album, is scheduled for September 26th 2009, at the Sheraton Hotel, 311 N University Drive, Plantation, Florida 33324, 6:30pm. My last album was released in 2005. The title of this new album,  ‘The Journey’ is fitting as it has been a long journey in my music career and in the music industry, and it is appropriate to celebrate and emphasize that detail on this new album. Forty one years is a looong time!

11. Tell us a little bit more. Will there be any changes in your style of music on this new album?

 Oh yes, the overall style is definitely ‘Jamaican’, but there are different ‘flavors’ and, I am very open to those changes. It shows the different sides of ‘Claudelle’; it shows how versatile I am (smile). You would think my voice would have changed through out the years, but it remained the same.  I am still singing the same songs in the same key I used to sing forty one (41) years ago. I am so thankful and I consider this a true blessing.  I will celebrate my 60th birthday on November 1st 2009.

This has proven to be one of my best and memorable projects. I am currently working with the producer, Hugh Campbell of Studio Max Records and it is so wonderful to be a part of this project as I had never been before.  I have input on some of the details of the process. All my previous works that I have done for other producers, I never had any real input in the creation of my CD projects. I would just sing and go home. No one consulted me on anything or informed me on the process. The next thing I know, in a couple of weeks/months, I would hear the music on radio. My current producer, Hugh Campbell, allows me to feel like I am an important ‘voice’ in the decision making process of this project and he values my input. So it is one of my best because I participate with my producer on the songs.

 12. Give us a little preview. Which song on this new album is your favorite?

 That is kind of a hard thing to do right now. There are so many ‘hit’ songs on this album that I don’t know. Let’s see—-‘It’s All Taken Care Of’ is such a powerful song to me. My daughter actually wrote one of the songs on this new album. It’s entitled ‘Glory Glory’.  Of course, it is one of my favorites.

13. What do you value most in life?

 Right now, I value health and strength. I am also happy that I have maintained a certain standard in my Christianity, and I have been getting stronger spiritually. I am not where I used to be spiritually, mentally and physically. I may fall by the way but I do not stay down, I get up and move on.

 14. Do you believe you are successful? Do you have any regrets in 41 years of ministry?

 I am successful. I wake up in the mornings and I have health and strength; I am successful. I feel good. I have no regrets. I am blessed. I am just a little disappointed in some things. Many times in my music career and within the music industry, people take me for granted. If I had continued in the secular music, I believe it would have had a terrible end for me, but I would have been recognized for my work. It is a hard pill to swallow at times, but I have found that in the Christian world, your talent is not valued as much as you would have liked it to be. The good thing is that my value comes from being a child of God, but its okay to be human sometimes. And that disappointment is my human self speaking (smile).  

 15. What is the one thing you would like for the Jamaican people to remember about you?

 I would like for them to remember that ‘Claudelle Clarke’ was a pioneer in Jamaican gospel music, who endured a lot to pave the way for many local artists of today. I want them to remember my struggles, so that when they come upon a personal battle in their own lives, they can remember that ‘Claudelle’ overcame her battles and paved the way for others, and they can do it too. A lot of singers would not have done what I did in those days, because they were faithful to their church’s rules and laws. I was obedient to God’s rules and laws.

16. What advice would you give to young gospel Jamaican artistes who are aspiring to be famous gospel singers?

They should make sure they understand that their talent is a ministry.  They should make sure they know they are singing for the right reasons. It’s not because they have a good voice and they can sing, but they should ask themselves the question: why am I singing? Is it to feel good or is it to be an instrument for God? We are the mouthpiece of God and we speak for Him, so if they are going to sing because they can sing, and not acknowledge that they are ‘here for God’, then they are in it for the wrong reasons.

17. Is there a message you have in your heart for the Jamaican people?

Crime is so common in Jamaica right now, and it is easy for the Church to talk about praying for change, but there has to be action along with praying. So praying is not all of what we need to do, because faith without works is dead. Jamaica is historically a Christian nation, and if we let crime take over the nation, then it will be a really sad day for us. People should come together and work together. Jamaica is not the Jamaica I knew growing up. People do not care about others nor do they have respect for each others lives. Jamaicans need to get back to the basics: ‘one han’ can wash the other’.  See, one person want to do something about the ills in society, but there are others who do not want to do participate in that venture. Even though I know there is more ‘good’ in Jamaica, than ‘evil’, it is hard because all you see are the ‘bad’ things. People should wake up and say ‘we are taking back our island, taking back our neighborhoods and taking back our community’. Mothers need to stand up and say ‘enough is enough’ when they see their child involved in wrong doings.  I believe it will be alright in the end. Mi love Jamaica cya done!

Interview conducted by D Campbell 6/30/09

To contact Claudelle: [email protected]  Visit: www.claudelleclarke.com








About the author

Debbie Campbell

Debbie is a Mental Health Counselor, and has been working in the mental health field for over ten years. A native of Jamaica, she has resided in the United States for more than twenty years. Debbie is the (2nd) second child of (5) five children. She came to the United States at age 17 to pursue her education in the field of Computers. However, her education pursuits led her into the field of Mental Health/Psychology. She obtained her Bachelors in Psychology in Miami and her Masters in Counseling in Oklahoma. Debbie's first book, 'Writings of the Soul: The Journey Vol. I' is only the beginning and a taste of what is to come in her writing abilities.