The Heirs of Joy, a well-known local gospel group, performed on Sept. 21 at a free concert sponsored by the Levy Senior Center Foundation held at the Levy Senior Center, 300 Dodge Ave., to kick off their new Jamming Jean Musical Series. The Maple Room was packed as the audience sang along, swayed and danced to the music. It was a joyous evening for the crowd that attended.
The creator and musical director behind The Heirs of Joy is Vernon Clark. He grew up in a religious home in Portsmouth, Va., the youngest in a family of eight children. Church and music were always major parts of his life. He says he does not remember a time when he was not singing or playing the piano. His musical ability, Mr. Clark says, “It is a gift from God that has been with me since birth. I’ve been privileged to walk in my passions. [I feel like] I’ve never had a job.”
Motivated by the desire to reach more people, especially teens and at-risk youth, Mr. Clark enrolled in a Master’s degree program in musical education at Northwestern University, graduating in 1982. He continued with his ministry while in graduate school.
For several years in the 1980s he served as the Minister of Music at Mt. Zion Church in Evanston, before moving to First Church of God Christian Life Center (FCGCLC), where he was part of the ministry for nearly 20 years. Classically trained but with no interest in pursuing an operatic career, Clark was often recruited to sing outside the church, including once at Comiskey Park.
In 1987 Mr. Clark started teaching at Evanston Township High School. There he and Jill Korshak, another ETHS teacher, created an innovative program called Students in Transition (SIT) to address the needs of students who were at risk of failing or dropping out. The program was a success and is still in place more than 30 years later.
At ETHS, Mr. Clark developed a following. The kids adored him. He quickly acquired a reputation in the school as being the kind of teacher open to hearing students talk about anything. They trusted him and regularly sought him for advice. Promotions followed him, and within the blink of an eye, he was looking back on a 30-year career. He left ETHS as Dean, Associate Principal for Educational Services.
Now Mr. Clark’s only paid job is as the music director at Second Baptist Church, a role he has had since 1999. Mr. Clark is also writing a musical called “Blu,” about the effects of bullying on a young person’s life. He is regularly asked to sing at weddings and sometimes even recruited for a funeral while the person is still alive. He conducts music workshops. And, of course, he sings with and serves as musical director for
The Heirs of Joy.
The Heirs of Joy – their name comes from Scripture – was founded in 1986 and consists of 11-14 singers who love to perform gospel standards. The members belong to many different churches and have busy, active lives, but they still find time to rehearse twice a month. Together they perform about 30 times a year; many performances are local, but the group has also performed in other parts of the U.S. as well as internationally.
The Heirs of Joy and Vernon Clark continue to inspire and bring hope and encouragement through music.