As an elementary school teacher, Fannie Cole Clark noticed that one of her pupils would often fall asleep during classes. Rather than belittle her student, Clark pulled him aside and learned that he was helping support his family by throwing newspapers before daybreak.
Taking matters into her own hands, Clark bought a mat and each morning allowed the student to take a nap in the back of the room. She also worked with him privately, helping him catch up on assignments. As a result, the student went on to excel in his studies.
" Fannie Clark approached every task with passion and enthusiasm – whether it was teaching in the classroom, producing a music concert, or hosting pre-election forums to enable citizens to hear directly from candidates from all political parties," said her niece, Janas Jackson. "She was also keenly sensitive to the needs of others."
A renowned educator, musician, recording artist and community activist, Mrs. Clark passed away last Saturday (Sept. 21) at Baptist Hospital East following a brief illness.
For Dr. Nzinga Ajanaku and numerous others, Mrs. Clark's death was devastating.
"When I heard about it, I was like 'Fannie, are you sure?'... But I know what death is and she served her purpose here."
Mrs. Clark established the Tennessee Mass Choir, a gifted group of singers and musicians known for combining gospel music, spirituals and drama in their praises to God. Ajanaku was part of the choir.
"Fannie was one of the most talented, brilliant, creative people I've ever known," Ajanaku said. "She was one of the most loving, nourishing person you would want to meet. ... She was so modest. She never wanted to be out front and stayed in the background. She was a producer, a creator, a director, and a writer. All of that came natural to her."
In an effort to create an opportunity for young people to display their unique talents, Mrs. Clark founded the Fannie Clark Singers in the 1970s. The group recorded two albums and received local and national recognition for their inspirational messages, versatile repertoires, and success in creating music that resonated with persons of all ages.
Later came the Tennessee Mass Choir. Under Mrs. Clark's direction, the choir produced a CD titled, "We Beheld His Glory," and performed at myriad high-profile events, including the Memphis in May Sunset Symphony; the Titanic Exhibition opening ceremony and the Southern Governors' Regional Convention.
A staunch community activist, Mrs. Clark hosted voter education forums for citizens at her home for 25 years. Regardless of political party affiliation, race or background, all candidates seeking public office were welcomed to share their vision and platform.
She also served on the Whitehaven Economic Development Corporation, the Methodist South Hospital Board of Directors, the Memphis Branch NAACP's Gala Operations Committee, and was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.
Her work in the areas of music, education and community service earned her numerous awards, including, the 2013 Ruby R. Wharton Community Service Award; the Memphis Convention and Bureau Award; United Music Heritage, Inc. Pioneer Award; National Coalition of 100 Black Women 's "Women of Wisdom" Award; United Way Campaign Award; the Memphis Chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Science Award; and the Love Thy Neighbor Award.
As a result of her devoted service to the community, then-City Councilwoman TaJuan Stout-Mitchell recommended that a portion of Lakeview Road in Whitehaven be renamed "Fannie Cole Clark Road." Today, the street sign bearing her name stands at the intersection of Lakeview and Craft Roads.
Mrs. Clark was born in Lake Cormorant, Miss. – the youngest of eight children of the late Rev. Thomas Cole and Fannie Mae Miles Cole. Her husband, J.B. Clark, five siblings and a great-grandchild, preceded her in death.
She leaves four children: Pastor Derek V. Clark (Tara) of Memphis, Mignonette Clark Durham (Howard) of Carrollton, Texas, Jackie B. Clark and Jason T. Clark, both of Memphis; three sisters: Garnitta Cole Jackson of Memphis; Rebbie Cole McDonald of Milwaukee, Wisc., and Eleanor Cole Thomas of Chicago; three sisters-in-law: Dr. Angela Louque (Gene) of Nuevo, Calif., Dr. Patricia Clark of Raleigh, N. Car., and Anita Clark of Los Angeles; 10 grandchildren: Arielle and Darius Aldridge, Diara Clark, Deanna Clark Plunkett (Kevin), Jaylen Clark, J'Aundra Clark, Jazmyn Clark, Min. Timon Clark, Jason Rhodes and Janay Rhodes, and great-granddaughters Katlyn Plunkett and Layla Mays.
Visitation will be Friday (Sept. 27) from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Rejoice in the Covenant Church,
2931 Ridgeway Rd., with the funeral service on Saturday at 11 a.m. at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church at 70 North Bellevue.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations in honor of Mrs. Fannie Cole Clark be sent to: Rejoice In the Covenant Church, P.O. Box 770357, Memphis, Tenn. 38177.