The music scene of New Orleans is lucky to have Joy Clark’s silky and soulful voice. Her influences include Sade, Shawn Colvin, Lenny Kravitz and Tracy Chapman, which can be heard in the texture of her voice. Clark’s music has become so popular that she has performed in famous New Orleans venues like Cafe Negril, Tipitina’s, The House of Blues, The Orpheum, and The Mint. Her positive and self-affirming music was born out of personal struggle and self exploration. In order to truly understand Clark’s bluesy yet serene music, you have to fully understand her upbringing.
The daughter of two ministers, Clark, was raised on the New Orleans West Bank in an environment centered around Christianity. Clark’s first exposure to live music was the gospel performances at the predominantly white church her family attended. She quickly developed a love for both singing and making music when she was given the opportunity to perform in the congregation band. As a child, Clark’s knowledge on music genres and pop culture was limited, as her parents did not allow her or her siblings to listen to secular music. In her late 20’s, Clark came out to her family and friends as queer. She is very open about the difficult conversations she had with her parents, who in the beginning, struggled to accept her sexuality.
Clark began her professional music career in 2010. She describes the process of producing music and writing lyrics as a way for her to express her authentic self and bring joy to others. She expresses a level of sorrow about feeling alienated from the church after coming out, along with her father’s decision to no longer allow her to perform in the church band. However, Clark still holds her Christian upbringing in a positive light, and ultimately credits the church for helping her discover her passion for music.
Clark employs a smooth vocal texture that penetrates into the emotions of the listener. She brings an empowering melodic energy that enables engaged listening of her work. This allows the listener to feel the waves of instrumental and vocal sounds and understand them on a personal level. In songs like “Never Change,” Clark engages with a weeping violin paired with a smooth acoustic guitar. The richness of Clark’s voice drips with the feelings of acceptance and comfort. With lyrics like “tell your story” and “I hope you never change,” Clark is producing cohesive work that places the listener in the light of her melodic voice and soothing instrumentals.
The visuals Clark displays pair accordingly with the message of her lyrics and sounds. Portrayed in the video “Love Yourself,” Clark rejoices in the journey of self love with the marching tones of a drum and sensual melody of her acoustic guitar. Clark choses to visually represent her younger self in telling this story she uses story telling in her lyrics rather than punchlines or glorifying a preferred lifestyle.
The visual of a younger self illustrates the story of young Clark truly engaging with the mindset, “I had to love myself… you gotta love yourself,” employing the reader with the sense of strength and power it took for Clark to reach this point in her life. This song in particular creates a connection between Clark’s aesthetics and her personal history. It envelops the listener in an upbeat, shoulder swaying performance, that both teaches and instills the ideals of loving oneself no matter what.
Clark has had a long and personal relationship with music; it’s her main motivation and focus. Her connection between musical aesthetics and personal history are a manifestation of Michel Foucault’s idea of genealogy. Clark captures the scope of body and emotion within her art and inspires the reader to explore their own juxtaposition of self and body while listening to her lyrics. Clark explains the history of her own personal morals in a sense “we adopt an identity whose unreality surpasses that of God who started the charade”(161) , in order to thread a storyline of personal experience through her music. Clark speaks about music as a channel for the coming into of her queer identity- an orientation of self within her aesthetic.
Clark enlightens the reader with the understanding that life was not always easy and she had to learn how to love herself. In an interview with Amanda G from Near and Queer to My Heart, Clark tells the story of her queer identity and journey of acceptance. Lyrics like “Little voice inside tells me I’m gon be alright … I have everything I need all I gotta do is sing,” recall a lack of familial acceptance, a struggle constantly being overcome in Clark’s personal life. In Foucault’s theory of genealogy, he describes effective history as that which “shortens its vision to those things nearest to it-the body”(153), and Clark’s music parades the liberation and freedom of self focused on the body that comes with a strong sense of self acceptance. Listening to Clark’s work leaves the listener feeling uplifted and excited about their own journey and emotions, exploring the sensual relationship of self love.
In the midst of the Covid pandemic, Clark thinks it is important to find self love no matter life’s challenges. This was highlighted on her single “Love Yourself,” which was released on June 25th of last year, when most of the planet was still on lockdown. Most of us were cut off from friends and work due to a stay at home order from the government. This was the time many protests arose in the country, many stemming from George Floyd’s murder. Floyd’s death caused national outrage among the public. To avert from this, Clark went for a sense of good vibes and feelings in the beginning of “Love Yourself.” Her song describes life when she was just 12 years old. She sings about walks in the park, the breeze on her back, and details the autumn sky. Despite taking us back in time with her lyrics, Clark is very present in the New Orleans community, even during the pandemic.
Clark was scheduled to perform at many shows in 2020, including the French Quarter Festival and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. While Clark still performs concerts live, the audiences are now watching from their computer screens via the program Zoom, where a large number of people can join the call and watch Clark perform. The reactions and the united vibe of the concert are hard to grasp throughout the Zoom; however the sounds of the music are able to permeate the electronic disconnect. She uses these shows to empower people, inspiring them to love themselves; she also talks about how these shows are constantly creating situations where she too must remember to love herself. As she does on her single “Never Change,” she emphasizes that you should be who you are. In a very soothing melodic tone, she is both convincing and empowering. Even in the pandemic, there is no need to change and try to be someone different solely for public opinion. Joy Clark encourages people to search within and love themselves, even during the hardest times.
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.