Alternative journalism spring 2021 – Portrait of an artist: Joy Clark

Joy Clark happily playing her guitar.
(Photo Credit: Joy Clark)

Joy Clark is an artist out of New Orleans, Louisiana. She started playing music at a young age-and that’s when she found her true talent and love that was going to take over her life. She just knew that she was destined to play the guitar and make music in her life. So, growing up as a kid with parents that were very Christian, she would be in church with the music ministry. Since her parents were so Christian, she really wasn’t able to listen to music outside of gospel. She went to a church in New Orleans that was a mostly white church. She and her parents were so deep into church that they would drive across the river to go to church. With her parents being very Christian, she wasn’t supposed to be listening to other genres of music other than Gospel & Christian. But then she would sneak and listen to music like Boyz II Men, Biggie, and Maxwell when she was at school with all of her friends.

Clark went to college in her hometown of New Orleans. At the University of New Orleans, she studied music. In college, she embraced her sexuality and came out as queer, which she was comfortable with. But since her parents were fully invested in the bible, everything had to been done the Christian way. Her parents weren’t very happy about Clark’s sexuality. That didn’t really sit right with Joy once she had told them. Clark had waited for so long to tell them, finally deciding to tell them when she was 32 years old. After her conversation with her parents, her dad told her one morning when they were about to go to church that she wasn’t allowed to perform in church anymore. That really hit Clark kind of hard. She cried for a bit after that, as it was really devastating. She then began to make her own songs and perform around the city.

Although Clark is a queer artist, her music has lots of layers to it. She has calm music that you can sit and vibe with someone to. Since Clark is a local New Orleans music enthusiast, she has a deep intellectual background that adjoins art and music. Clark’s background is unique, as is the way she physically and spiritually expresses her hometown city of New Orleans throughout her work. Clark has been playing the guitar since she was a young schoolgirl in New Orleans, basically for as long as she can remember. Now she performs at local bars, venues, and other public places, while beloved by her audiences. She is also active and strongly involved with art and music organizations in the city. She is an inspiration for children, educating and helping local kids on music and art.

Clark was thoughtful enough to attend one of our classes this spring semester. When Clark came to visit us, she was extremely open about her current and past life experiences. She spoke about being a queer woman while attending college in New Orleans and everything that came with it. Similar to Foucault’s method of genealogy, Clark spoke about her history of being queer. The experiences that Clark had in college at the University of New Orleans served as a benchmark for her life going forward. Our own individual personal history is a strong influence on who we become. Foucault’s idea of genealogy is strongly grounded in an individual’s personal history. Each person has their own different history, making us who we are. Genealogy, according to Foucault, is essentially based upon an individual’s background—and how everyone’s individual background becomes part of a bigger, collective background. All people have a different background, thus providing everyone with their own individual, unique genealogy. Just like the experiences we are all currently living, each individual experience will have an impact on our genealogy moving forward.

Joy Clark’s work tells a unique story that fits her perfectly. Although much of what she loved to do was play gospel music at church, that being taken away allowed her to explore of her own musical style. Truthfully what Clark’s work calls to mind is a coming of age story, the story of somebody stepping into fully becoming and exploring themselves. It takes an artist with a powerful voice and ability to take their own journey of finding themself and to use it to inspire others to do the same. Clark’s work comes with an even more powerful feeling when looking at where she started with music and what she took with her own music. Clark explores intimate human emotion which really delivers a raw, personal connection with her audience, one that will only be found in an artist putting a true expression of themselves in a vulnerable way out there for their audience to see and hear. As an artist, she takes inspiration from so many different things and finds her own style in a way that is immediately noticeable to the audience. There is really a unique story behind the musician which makes their work even more powerful when being viewed in an artistic way. It feels as though not having heard about Clark’s musical journey would have done her work an injustice to myself. Listening for influences she pulls from and hearing her story through the sound of her music was a legitimately fun experience. Her music is soft, melodious, and carries a beautiful and inspirational romance in its lyrics. “Love is on your side, tell your story,” is just one very rememberable quote from her music, coming from the song “Never Change.”

This piece is part of the on-going series “The Social and Political Commentary of Artist Profiles,” which is part of an Alternative Journalism course at Tulane University taught by Dr. Christine Capetola.


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