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June 29, 2014

Chicago School Teacher Melissa Clark Strikes GOLD!

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Written by: David Smallwood
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A Chicago Public Schools teacher who is riding the waves of her R&B hit song Gold is about to blow up bigger than all y’all.

Melissa Clark, currently a science teacher for CPS middle school students as well as a lifelong music aficionado, recently released the single, which is co-produced by popular R&B singer/songwriter K’Jon.

It’s the first song released from her debut album that Melissa hopes to have completed by the fall…and the beginning of the new school year.  That’s how this teacher is spending her summer vacation!

Clark, an educator for 10 years, told N’DIGO, “Teaching is my gift, something I’ve always had a love for, but my music is my passion!”

The native Chicagoan was born and raised on the South Side and graduated from Percy Julian High School before receiving her teaching degree from Chicago State University.  She started out teaching general courses in every subject area, but recently gravitated toward science.

The aspiring songstress has been singing far longer than being an educator, however.  She began at the age of six, with her roots in the church.  But she’d also go to nursing homes to sing for the elderly and for family and friends at different functions, whether it was a christening, baptism or birthday party.

“Whatever it was, I was always singing,” Melissa says, adding that she was also singing everything.  “From gospel to R&B to neo (soul), whatever was hot and catchy, whatever music was out, if it was something I liked, I sang it.  But it had to be tasteful, though; it couldn’t be explicit.”

Around the age of 15, she started writing and recording her own music – “soulful, R&B stuff,” she says.  “A lot of ballads based on my personal experiences.”

Melissa says her voice and style are most frequently compared to two of her idols, Toni Braxton and Anita Baker, but without Anita’s legendary diva-ish attitude – “I have a great personality and I’m not difficult to work with!” chimes Clark.  Her other influences were Whitney Houston, Stephanie Mills, and Carol White.

But though she’s always considered herself “really good” musically, Melissa says she’s struggled with making headway with music as a profession.

“I went back and forth with it; it was something that I knew I wanted to do, but at times I didn’t know if I was willing to put in all the hard work and dedication it needed,” she says.  “Here in Chicago, it always seemed like it was a struggle. So I did stray away from it for awhile.”

Part of that straying meant getting a “real” job, which she did in teaching following obtainment of her degree.  But even after graduating from Chicago State, Melissa did an internship with Sony Music in their distributing and promotional departments for about six months.

“Somehow I would always find myself back doing something somewhere with music, whether it was me singing with a live band, doing karaoke, just something. I always stayed close to music.”

 

Opportunity Knocks

imageThat “something” included performing at radio station V103’s New Year’s Eve celebration show back in December at the Legacy Theater, where she shared the stage with K’Jon, and that fortuitous meeting provided a big jolt for her professional career.

“He approached me about getting a cd together, to see if it was something I was interested in recording, and I was definitely interested,” Clark explains.

“He wanted to see what type of sound I was trying to go for, so I sent him a number of songs, including this song Gold, which I wrote maybe eight years ago. This is the one he was interested in. He heard something and just liked it; it was something he was really feeling.”

Clark signed an artistic development deal with K’Jon, whom she calls her “music mentor and producer” and they began to work on Gold.  “He said he wanted to make the hook bigger, so we worked on that and this is the first song out of several that he wanted to put out there right away,” Clark says.

Gold is a feel-good, empowering anthem about self-worth where Melissa sings out: “Ain’t going to let nobody tell me different when it comes to what I know, I’m definitely a piece of gold.”  She says the song “truly reflects who I am and what I think of myself.  It’s everything that defines me as an individual.”

Gold, the single, was released on Clark’s own independent Signature Gold Records label and is available on iTunes, cdbaby, and Amazon, and there is an audio version on YouTube.

“The response has been great,” Melissa says.  “In the first few days of release, less than a week, it got close to a thousand views, and K’Jon and I did a party at the South Shore Cultural Center a couple of weeks ago to promote the song.”

 

A Difficult Choice Pending

As far as how the dual professions is playing out in the Chicago Public Schools system, apparently, so far so good.

“My principal knows about it and she’s happy for me,” says Clark, not wanting to name the particular school she teaches at in case the publicity draws undue attention.  And she says her students know a little bit.

“It’s starting to seep out,” Melissa says.  “They’re starting to ask.  They always knew that I sang – I never held that back from my kids because we always do fun things, whether we’re getting ready for a Christmas show or something – and I’d go, no this is how you sing it!

“But now they’re asking, ‘We heard that you’re putting out a song, can we hear it?’  I’m not ready for them to find me on Facebook yet, and they don’t really know about Gold.” It’s not something she comes in singing every day like it’s the class’ national anthem that they have to sing along with.

Melissa is in the process of making a video for YouTube to promote the song, but she ensures it won’t be one where she’s shaking her stuff all around.

“No!” she insists.  “I want to keep it grown.  It can have a nice little appeal to it, but I definitely want to make sure that it stays…it can be saucy without being trashy.  There are so many children who are being – I won’t say ‘tainted,’ but they’re watching everything that goes on.  And especially since I’m an educator, I want to continue to teach through my music.

In fact, Clark says teaching is important to the kind of music she’s focused on now.

“When I was younger that probably wasn’t the case.  It was a little bit of hip hop there, a little bit of pop, but now that I’m a school teacher and older than what I was at the time I first stated writing, I want to still teach through my music.

“So at this point, I wanted a different sound for myself, especially since I’m a school teacher.  I keep reiterating that because I have students and so many others that look up to me that I want to make sure that I am putting the right message and the right sound out there.”

The very next step in the journey for this emerging artist is to complete her album by September, which will feature 10 songs, an R&B mixture, but heavy with ballads and love songs, Melissa says.

“And I’m promoting Gold and trying to see where it goes. I’m still teaching now and I’m going to continue to sing and see where it takes us.

So what happens when she does blowup and become ultra-successful?

“I don’t know,” Clark ponders.  “I just know at some point, I don’t know if it will be difficult along the way to do both.  I do know there will come a time that I will have to choose.  Right now I really can’t say.

“But I’m going to give it as long as it takes.  Everything is about timing. I’ve been working at this for a long time and to me now it just seems like it’s ready to take off, so I’m going to embrace it and see how far it goes.”

One thing for sure is that professional songbird Melissa Clark will have no problem with the rigors of performance anxiety.

“I’m not shy,” she laughs.  “I can do concerts, I can get up on stage and I love to interact with the crowd, the audience – it works for me. Maybe school teaching has something to do with that, but I like telling people what to do!”

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About the Author

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David Smallwood