Jack Clark: Playing songs in the key of life
by William Wright
Feb 06, 2011 | 2069 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
THE MUSIC MAN — Jack Clark has been hailed a humorous, virtuoso pianist who had the privilege of playing with the best and entertaining the rest with his gifted hands. The 76-year-old musician has been playing the piano at Westwood Baptist Church for the past 43 years after touring with some of the most well-known quartet groups in gospel music.
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His first public performance on the piano came at age 8 during a Sunday night service at Shady Springs Community Church.

As his parents sat proudly among friends, little Jack Clark delivered a masterful 42-second rendition of “Just a little talk with Jesus.” The following year, after he turned 9, Clark said he gave his heart to Jesus and by the age of 12, was playing the piano for the Gilliam Quartet of Beaver.

“They took me on as their pianist and those events all combined to give me a lifelong love of all forms of church music that has dealt me great joy and without which I cannot imagine my life having a whole lot of purpose,” wrote Clark in his humorous biography, “55 Years On The Bench — A collection of significant happenings in the life of a gospel musician.”

In his book’s foreword, Clark explains the bench to which he refers is the one that sits at the business end of the piano upon which he spent a considerable part of the last 65 years.

As proof of his time spent on the bench, Clark shared a moment he had with his physician and friend, Dr. Ronald Coleman, who was taking more than the usual time examining his posterior. The doctor was chuckling.

“Being of a naturally inquisitive nature, I did the natural thing — I asked. Through a silly grin, he confessed, ‘I’ve never examined a man that had calluses there before.”

This came as no surprise to the healthy 76-year-old who started his piano training at the tender age of 5 and continues his life on the bench playing the piano at Westwood Baptist Church for the past 43 years.

Over the years Clark has proven himself to be a virtuoso pianist, songwriter, arranger and producer, winning an Angel award for video music production and becoming a recipient of an honorary Doctorate of Keyboard Wizardry from Calvary Christian Academy.

In 1998, the Cleveland resident was inducted into the Southern Gospel Piano Roll of Honor and proclaimed a Living Legend by the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion.

He is also the author of “A Dictionary of Gospel Quartet Music,” published in 1991. The dictionary has been hailed as “a direct assault on the funny bone of the gospel quartet world,” containing “hilarious definitions that looks candidly at the humorous side of the business.”

Clark’s first professional employment was with the Homeland Harmony Quartet in Atlanta at the age of 21.

Traveling to 42 states throughout the country, Clark recorded and toured with several major groups, including “The Oak Ridge Boys,” “The Inspirations,” “The Landmark Quartet,” “The Harvesters,” “The Kingsmen” and such soloists as Larry McFadden and J. Robert Bradley.

“At the height of my career we were traveling somewhere between 90,000 and 100,000 miles a year,” said Clark. “Those miles included two tours to California each year and touring several foreign countries. In 1964 I was on television a total of 242 times in that one year alone.

“We played Carnegie Hall, The Long Beach Municipal Auditorium in California, Dade County Auditorium in Miami and the city auditoriums in just about every major Southern city. We were also doing weekly TV shows of our own on four different TV stations in North and South Carolina in addition to traveling and recording.”

In all the years of traveling since the time Clark first gave his heart to Jesus, not once did he entertain turning his love of gospel music into a mainstream musical career for a chance at fame and fortune.

“I fell deeply in love with this music and I am still in love with it,” Clark admits. “I still have the same love and reverence for this music that I always had.”

In one of his stories from “55 Years On The Bench,” titled “The awe of the calling,” Clark said, “I asked my Father to preserve in me that same awe of my own calling that I might never fail to serve Him with thanks for the privilege of doing so.”

Still going as strong as ever, Clark shared his own definition to distinguish between a pianist and a piano player.

“A pianist is someone who re-creates a piece of music perfectly,” Clark said. “But a piano player is someone who makes music and has fun. I’m a piano player. When all is said and done, I want people to say, ‘He played the piano.’”

Married for 55 years to his wife, Midge, the couple has four sons; Stephen, John, David and Andrew. Although Clark’s life continues to be filled with humor, music, joy and love, the grandfather of seven said he is eternally grateful to be doing something that he loves as an expression of his greatest love.

“The fact that I have been allowed by God to spend an entire career doing the one thing that I would rather do than anything else in the world is a blessing,” said Clark. “Which leaves me in the position of being a very happy man — a very fulfilled man.”