Country Queer

Lifting up LGBTQ+ voices in country and Americana.

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The Blessings of Joy Clark

By Alyssa Donyae

Photo by Alyssa Donyae

We met at a Mid-City coffee shop that all good New Orleanians know. Joy Clark, dressed in her most casual (a white t-shirt, this time, instead of her usual black) chooses a spot outside in the corner, right under the big tree that greets every patron. After we say our greetings and thank Mother Earth for the first good day of weather in a while (which has since passed – I’m writing this up while it storms,) Joy catches me up on everything since we’ve last met. 

For starters, earlier this month Clark released her newest single “Good Thing” exclusively on Bandcamp, as a special treat for fans, who she knew would look for it. It had been two years since she released music, so coming back with a track that’s a frequent fan request was an obvious choice. Still, it intially came with some nerves.

“It’s one thing to perform a song live, it’s another to do it in studio,” says Clark. It took time, but eventually this recording experience began to feel different. Clark felt comfortable. More confident. It became an exercise in re-finding her voice and trusting herself.

“Usually, I would’ve been uncomfortable recording my guitar separately from my voice, but I really made myself believe I could do it. And it actually worked out beautifully.” The song is an ode to love, trust, and all things that make you vulnerable. (Some say it’s the perfect wedding song. Coincidentally – perhaps – Clark just got engaged.)


A Honky-Tonk of Our Own

In the recording process, Clark felt that this wasn’t just the making of a great track, but an omen. That the energy that was captured wasn’t just lightning in a bottle, but a prophecy, saying “this is how it’s gonna be from here on out.” 

And the prophecy fulfilled itself with an invitation to “commune with the Goddesses.” Allison Russell, three-time Grammy nominee, first met Clark in Decemeber at the EXIT/IN. After hearing each other perform, it seemed to each of them that it would be only a matter of time before they collaborated. Fast forward three months, and Clark gets a call to perform with Russell in a performance at the iconic Ryman Auditorium.

“It was a dream realized.” Clark said. Calling Russell a “generous” and “strategic” artist, Clark said she feels as though Russell is not only about playing a good show, but also building a community.

“I love the way she approaches working with other people,” says Clark.

But their collaboration didn’t end there. 

Just a little over a week ago, a performance of Russell’s “4th Day Prayer” aired on Jimmy Kimmel, featuring Sista Strings, Larissa Maestro, Elizabeth Goodfellow, Mandy Fer, and…Joy Clark. The “Goddesses”, as Russell refers to them, had all played together in various configurations (Sista Strings would accompany Russell for one gig, Elizabeth, Mandy, and Joy on another,) but this was the first time that all seven of them shared the stage.

“Working with women, you have a chance to speak… both verbally and through our instruments. There’s no fighting for a lead position or lead part. Everybody figures out what they can offer to the conversation of the song, and we present it,” Clark says.

The “conversation” comes through when you watch the performance. You hear them passing musical ideas throughout their parts, like a dance, delivering a powerful performance with seemingly no effort. It’s like watching chamber music when the group is just right.

“The chemistry is great, because it’s about the people,” Clark explains, “It’s about the people and then the music. Because if you have the right people, the music will fall right in line.” This ensemble has legs. Clark confirms, “it’s just as fun as it looks.”

Looking forward, Clark is anticipating recording her next single “Tell it to the Wind”. A mystical song, it tells her story – the story of a kid who knew she wanted to be an artist. Clark learned quickly, like all creatives do, that turning your dreams into “flesh and blood” can be daunting. It comes with projections and insecurities. Questions of “What are you gonna do about this?” and “How are you gonna get around that?”

For answers, even as a child, Clark found herself speaking to the wind. “I’ve always sought out the wind to tell those dreams to. The wind isn’t gonna tell you, ‘That can’t happen’. The wind is gonna take your dreams, and make it happen.”

It seems as though the wind is listening, with another big dream about to come true. (It is at this point I must share with y’all – Joy Clark does not know a stranger, especially in the city of New Orleans. Every time we meet she is greeted by a childhood friend, an old classmate, the owner of some local venue. Clark loves this city and the city loves her back.) Clark was offered a spot on the upcoming 2022 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival lineup, playing one of the biggest and most revered festivals in the world, finally back after a two year hiatus. She says it feels like “validation”.

“Everybody wants to play Jazz Fest,” we say simultaneously. With everything going so well in her career outside the city, Clark calls it a “blessing” to be acknowledged by this New Orleans institution. 

Photo by Alyssa Donyae.

While she’s humble enough to avoid the “I’ve been doing this for years, y’all just got here!” talk, she’s shouting out Black women for all of the recent successes flooding in. “Black women have put me on from the beginning, and Black women are still putting me on.” But she also applauds her choice of mind to “step out” after Hurricane Ida came through New Orleans back in September of 2021. Traveling to Austin, Texas, for shelter when the storm hit, she chose to attend open mics instead of just waiting to go home. Then she stretched herself even further and attended her first AmericanaFest. (Among other festival appearances, Clark backed up Lilli Lewis at the Country Queer showcase.)

“Making that decision to go to Nashville and broaden my community, things have been firing off all cylinders ever since. But it always comes back to Black women keeping that light on me. Even when I couldn’t really see past the city, I was here growing as a musician. Black women kept lifting me up. And now it’s the right time of Black folks reclaiming our space. It’s all just been in timing.”

The door has been flung wide open for Joy Clark. Be sure to give her a holler when she stops by. 

Alyssa Donyae is a Texas-raised, New Orleans-based photographer and journalist currently focused on the world of Americana and country music.