Christine Clark, a Los Angeles native, was born in 1946. She grew up fast, both musically and emotionally, by traveling with jazz players throughout her youth and developing some skill as a blues belter.
In California, Motown rep Hal Davis alerted Berry Gordy to the teenager's potential. She flew to Detroit to present her demo tapes. Unmoved by the tunes, Gordy insisted on a live, unaccompanied performance. Her voice--and quick wit--won him over. The year was 1963.
Clark couldn't record her own work right away. As a secretary, she handled administrative affairs while she awaited her turn at the mic.
It came at the end of 1965. Gordy's "Do Right Baby, Do Right" was one of the least whitewashed R&B songs that the company issued. Clark later charted with Holland-Dozier-Holland's "Love's Gone Bad" in 1966, but #41 was as high as it would go, R&B-wise. Pop flicked it off at #105.
In 1967, Clark released her first album, Soul Sounds. It featured notable singles like a cover of Smokey Robinson's "From Head to Toe" and her and Gordy's ultra-soulful "I Want to Go Back There Again." (This discography elaborates on her tracks.) Yet few black radio DJs supported it. Many claimed the album was just bad. But if the thought of a white person usurping the soul/R&B market never crossed their minds, then it couldn't have been 1960s America.
Berry Gordy was one African-American who didn't mind her race. Not at all. Despite potentially explosive consequences, he dated her for years.
The U.K. also cheered on "the White Negress." Dusty Springfield comparisons spring to mind.
This Chris Clark biography would coast along more smoothly if we considered her non-vocal work. As Motown struggled to use her singing talents properly, through a cancelled album and CC Rides Again, she continued to chip in behind the scenes.
Just how much became apparent when the company made her vice president of its nascent film division in 1969. And co-screenwriter (and Oscar nominee) of Lady Sings the Blues. And the head executive of creative affairs from 1981 to 1989.
Her photographs of Motown artists expanded her abilities further from music and business to visuals.
In 1991, two years after leaving Motown, Clark recorded "From Head to Toe," just like old times, at Motorcity.
Chris Clark's singing career could have gone better, but her Motown mojo certainly didn't go bad.
If you should click away from this Chris Clark biography, then why not read about these other Motown oldies artists?