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On this date, in 1924, Clara Ward was born. She was a Black gospel singer and composer.
Ward was from Philadelphia, PA, where she began her singing and piano career at six. In 1934 she was an accompanist for the Ward Trio, a family group that included her mother, Gertrude, and her sister Willa. The group received national attention in 1943 when it sang at the National Baptist Convention. Afterward, they toured throughout the country.
In 1948 the group began a fifteen-year career with W. Herbert Brewster. During that time, they produced Surely God Is Able, and I’m Climbing Higher and Higher. This song made them one of the most popular female gospel groups of their time. Clara Ward was highly regarded for her ability to convey drama in slow gospel ballads and non-metrical hymns such as When I’ve Done the Best I Can. Later, Ward built on her style by inserting techniques such as shrieks and growls, moving towards what is known as “hard” gospel. Her best example of this was the 1957 song Packin’ Up.
During the 1960’s Ward turned increasingly to secular music, even though her gospel music had attracted a wide audience. This change cost her dearly in popularity with her gospel following. In 1963 she performed in the first gospel musical written by Langston Hughes, entitled Tambourines To Glory. She made several successful tours in major U.S. settings, including the Newport Jazz Festival. Clara Ward died on January 16, 1973.