A gospel artist with an up-to-date, R&B- and hop-hop-influenced sound and attitude, Kierra Sheard (billed early in her career as Kierra “Kiki” Sheard) topped the Billboard gospel albums chart with her 2004 debut album, I Owe You. While maintaining a presence among the elite artists of the gospel world, she later broke into the Top 40 of the Billboard 200 with back-to-back releases, 2011’s Free and 2014’s Graceland. Her six full-length, 2020’s Kierra, featured an appearance by none other than Missy Elliott.
Sheard was born in Detroit in 1987. Her mother is Karen Clark-Sheard, a gospel vocalist best known for her work with the Clark Sisters. Her father is Bishop J. Drew Sheard, a well-known author, speaker, and worship leader, and her grandmother was the respected and influential choral director Mattie Moss Clark. Growing up in a musical family, Kierra began singing early in life, and she made her recording debut when she was just ten years old, with guest appearances on two numbers on her mother’s first solo effort, 1997’s Finally Karen. One of those songs, “The Will of God,” won a Stellar Award for Best Children’s Performance, while the other, “The Safest Place,” became a favorite on gospel radio. She was soon singing backing vocals alongside her mother, the Clark Sisters, and her aunt Dorinda Clark-Cole.
In 2003, Sheard signed a record deal with EMI Gospel, and her debut solo album, I Owe You, was released in September 2004. The record was a critical and commercial success, rising to the top of the gospel albums chart and number 29 on the R&B/hip-hop chart. A collection of remixes, Just Until…, followed in August 2005, and one track from the set, a reworking of “Let Go” by the Godson Complex, became a major hit in Japan. In June 2006, shortly after graduating from high school, Sheard issued her second LP, This Is Me, which reached number one on the gospel albums chart the week it was released. It received a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary R&B Gospel Album. Her third long-player, Bold Right Life, arrived in October 2008, and the same month, she appeared as a guest vocalist on the single “God in Me” by Mary Mary, which became a major gospel hit. In late 2009, the compilation Kiki’s Mixtape featured a collection of previously unreleased tracks alongside remixes and fan favorites.
In 2010, Sheard landed small roles in two Christian-themed films, Preacher’s Kid and Blessed and Cursed. Her fourth proper album, 2011’s Free, found her jumping to Karew Records, the label that had long been home to the Clark Sisters and Karen Clark-Sheard. The record also debuted the BRL Choir (standing for “Bold Right Life”), a gospel vocal ensemble working with Kierra. The BET cable network debuted the reality series The Sheards in April 2013. It followed the activities of the extended Clark and Sheard families, both on- and off-stage.
Sheard’s fifth album, Graceland, was released in July 2014 and became her fourth gospel number one. It was followed in November 2015 by LED, an eight-song EP. The singer also appeared on the EP A Karew Family Christmas, issued in 2018. Titled simply Kierra, her sixth full-length featured guests including Missy Elliott, Tasha Cobbs Leonard, and Todd Dulaney. It went straight to number one on the gospel albums chart, ending a six-month reign by Kanye West’s Jesus Is King.