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Clara Ward

2023 Women’s History Month

31 Historical Women from Philly

Clara Mae Ward was a gospel singer who achieved great artistic and commercial success during the 1940s and 1950s as leader of The Famous Ward Singers.

She was one of the most outstanding soloists and conductors in gospel history. Ward was a seven-year-old lead singer of her family’s musical group, The Ward Trio.

At the age of 16, Ward recorded her first gospel album.

In 1950 and 1952, Ward performed at New York City’s Carnegie Hall at the Negro Music Festival. Occasionally, she performed in nightclubs and 1957, at the Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, Rhode Island, during a gospel music forum.

In 1962, she was one of the backup performers for the rhythm and blues song “Mashed Potato Time” by Dee Dee Sharp, which was #1 on Billboard’s pop chart. The following year Ward was the Choral Director of Langston Hughes’ musical Tambourines to Gloryddddddddddddddddd and was the principal singer in the Broadway’s Little Theatre on West 44th Street.

In 1964, she performed for President Lyndon Johnson at his inaugural ball at the National Guard Armory in Washington, D.C.

In 1967, she led the Clara Ward Singers in a first of its kind performance at the Philadelphia Academy of Music.

Ward acted in the Hollywood movie A Time to Sing in 1968. The same year she performed in Vietnam at the request of the United States State Department. A year later, Ward was back in Vietnam at the request of United Service Organizations Inc. (USO).

Ward has composed and arranged more than 500 gospel scores.