“I just love singing,” says Sheard, a next generation member of gospel’s royal family The Clark Sisters. “Having such a gift that lets me express myself and inspire others is an amazing, fun thing. What more can you do or want? But at the same time, I’m always trying to make it bigger and better.”
Sheard does just that on the latest chapter in her blooming career, as seen with her fifth album entitled GRACELAND (Karew Records/Motown), July 22. As with her previous albums, beginning with 2004 standout debut I Owe You, the young singer/songwriter continues to deliver a seamless fusion of R&B/hip-hop and gospel intertwined with heartfelt lyrics extolling the wonder of God and what he can do. This time, however, Sheard gets more personal.
“If I was God, I would have gotten sick of myself,” says Sheard with a laugh as she recalls an ongoing inner battle last year between self-conviction and condemnation. “I didn’t want to be where I don’t have God’s grace,” she explains. “Then a feeling came over me: I was ready to get over this struggle; that I was still under his grace and mercy.”
Sheard’s triumph over turmoil ultimately triggered what is arguably her best and most versatile work to date. GRACELAND brims with self-introspection and lessons learned as a fearless Sheard bares her soul and shares a revelatory, yet joyous journey that everyone can personally embrace. “Songs just kept coming out of that experience,” Sheard relates. “Recording this album, I basically cried on every song.”
Her declaration includes the album’s exuberant first single, “2nd Win.” Its marching cadence fittingly underscores the song’s message about overcoming life’s challenges. At the same time, its sampling of the Clark Sisters song, “They Were Overcome,” pays homage to the trailblazing work of the group’s members: Sheard’s three aunts and her mother, Karen Clark Sheard. GRACELAND’s other quintessential tracks range from the guitar-driven, folky mid-tempo title track (“I Fall All the Time,” says Sheard. “That song touches me because it’s what I feel every day”) to the rap-accented anthem “Moving Forward.”
Me.” Rounding out Sheard’s suite of collaborators are producer/brother J. Drew and childhood friends/songwriters Justin Jones, Justin Brooks and Lakisha Burns.
“This was a dream come true for me,” says Sheard of GRACELAND, recorded in Detroit and Los Angeles. “Putting great people in your life and making connections from there … that’s how this all happened.”
In fact, a lot has happened since Sheard launched her professional solo career in 2004. The 26-year-old Detroit native was at the center of a label bidding war when she signed with EMI Gospel in 2003. The debut album I Owe You—also marking brother J. Drew’s production debut—was followed by 2006’s This Is Me. The Grammy Award-nominated sophomore set bowed at No. 1 on Billboard’s Gospel Albums chart. Two years later came Bold Right Life and then 2011’s Free, her first album on her family’s Karew Records which debuted #1 on Billboard’s Gospel Chart and earned her a Stellar Award for Best Female Vocalist. In between, Sheard was tapped to guest on Mary Mary’s “God in Me.” The gospel and R&B crossover hit went on to win a Grammy Award for Best Gospel Song and a Stellar Award for Song of the Year. Sheard also earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Wayne State University.
Gifted with a vocal range mirroring that of her mother and aunts—from angelic riffs to deep lows—Sheard began singing in her pastor father’s church at the age of six. By nine, she had appeared on two songs on her mother’s 1997 debut solo album. One song, “The Will of God,” earned a Stellar Award for Best Children’s Performance. After honing her skills as a backing vocalist for her mother, aunt Dorinda Clark-Cole, and the Clark Sisters, Sheard came into her own.
As Sheard prepares for GRACELAND’S release, she is also the newest judge to BET’s longest running gospel music competition series, “Sunday Best,” and is gearing up for the second season of her family’s BET reality show, “The Sheards,” this fall. “Sharing my life with the world makes me both nervous and excited,” says Sheard. “But it gives me another opportunity to inspire young men and women. I want them to know it’s okay to be a Christian and still have fun.” Something the self-professed “people person” further promotes as founder of BRL (Bold! Right! Life!). Fifteen chapters strong, the youth organization (www.boldrightlife.org) is staging its eighth annual conference (Aug. 7-9) in Detroit with Sheard as its host.
Coming soon: a new hosiery line, Sheers by Sheard, geared to curvy women debuting in Walgreens Summer 2014, in addition to a fashion line down the road. “I’ve been drawing vision boards for a clothing line since 2000,” she adds.
But first and foremost is Sheard’s musical calling. “Singing gives me a sense of freedom. That’s what people will hear on GRACELAND. It’s the best record I’ve done.”