I recently had the pleasure of speaking with gospel recording artist, Cheryl “Coko” Clemons, former lead singer of the 90’s girl group, SWV. Her next project “The Winner In Me” is due in stores and online Tuesday, July 14,2009. The lead single, “Wait,” which is in rotation at radio stations across the nation, beautifully showcases Coko’s signature soprano voice, and artfully encourages the faithful to trust in the Lord’s timing. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the song was written by Coko’s own pastor. Largely a collaborative effort, “The Winner In Me” conveys the down to earth, soulful style for which Coko has come to be known. I can attest that the lady reflects the artist. In the few moments we had, Coko patiently and candidly answered my questions, revealing the heart of a woman who has her priorities firmly in order. Below are her thoughts on marriage, motherhood, career, and the Church in her own words. Enjoy Family!
Elev8: It was reported in XXL magazine that you decided that SWV would no longer sing sexually explicit songs such as Downtown and Can We? What prompted that change?
Coko: Well, I’m a wife and a mother now. I’m all grown up – not a teenager anymore. I have to be more conservative. I want to be my children’s role model. I want them to be able to look up to me. Back then we were just singing nonsense. We didn’t really think about it. Now, I want to think about what I’m singing. I want to mean it.
Elev8: How was your decision received?
Coko: Oh, very well! We were all in agreement. Sometimes when we’re singing [on stage], somebody will yell out “Downtown!” But we just explain that we don’t sing that anymore. Once people hear more songs they’re usually O.K. As long as they hear “Weak,” they’re alright.
Elev8: Just as your sophomore project as a secular solo artist was about to launch in 2001, RCA closed its black music division. How did that affect you spiritually? How did you rebound?
Coko: Well at first they wanted to assign me to another label, but I didn’t want to do that because I didn’t want to be sent somewhere. So I just stopped for a minute. I just took some time and got to spend time with myself and to know me and got deeply involved in my church. And I think that was the best thing for me because I’ve arrived at the place that I am now. I’m much better spiritually and I’m a much better person.
Elev8: So overall it was a good thing?
Coko: Yes, very much so.
Elev8: You began your career in Hezekiah Walker’s Love Fellowship Tabernacle Choir, then formed SWV, Solo secular artist, and now a gospel artist – is that a path you would recommend for someone starting out in Gospel Music?
Coko: I don’t recommend anything for anybody. I want you to do what your heart tells you to do. I don’t like to tell people what they should do. I think you should follow your heart.
Elev8: What are your immediate music career goals in the next one to three years?
Coko: I plan to continue…to keep singing. But I would love to get my own label. There [are] a lot of great talents out here that I would like to…put out. So that’s really what my focus is. My mom she wants to record, so I’m trying to record her as well.
Elev8: Does that play into your long term career goals?
Coko: Yeah. I would like to be…maybe like a female “Diddy” but…more positive.
Elev8: You’ve mentioned that you are wife, mother, and obviously you have a career. How do you manage to successfully combine those roles?
Coko: It could be hard. But I make sure everybody knows that my family comes first. I will work, but I have to set time aside for my children so I can do my mommy-thing with them, make sure I’m there for…their ball games or whatever, just so that we get to spend time. My husband also travels. He plays with Israel and New Breed. So we have to make sure that we have time when we all come together as a family because I need my children to know family.
Elev8: How often are you able to do the mommy-thing on a regular basis, carpooling, picking up, and dropping off. Is that an integral part of your daily life?
Coko: Oh, I don’t carpool (chuckles), but yes, I make sure that the mommy-thing is a part of my daily life. It has to be because I don’t want my children to say “Oh, my mom wasn’t there.” That’s something [being present] that has to happen.
Elev8: Yours is a blended family as is a large percentage of families in America, and as such faces really unique challenges. Do you have any advice that you can offer to wives/mothers of blended families that will encourage them, or help them or share things that have worked for you?
Coko: Communication is the key. You have to talk about everything. Put everything on the table. If you hold things in, nothing ever gets solved. If a problem arises you should always talk about it, put it on the table, have family discussions. [It] works for me.
Elev8: Do you have a family night of discussion or is it less formal than that?
Coko: It’s less formal than that. We hang out together. We just went to Busch Gardens the other day and I’m worn out from that. I just try to keep us all together and do family things.
Elev8: Lastly, what advice do you have in general for young women and girls who want to stay sexually pure in our culture? What can you offer them?
Coko: Just don’t do it. You have to be strong minded. And if you’re strong minded, then don’t even put yourself in that situation where something could happen or you’ll be tempted to do something like that. Just stay away from that whole situation.
Elev8: What areas of growth for you personally are you working on? What things would you like to be better at doing?
Coko: I guess I need more patience. That’s a biggie for me. I’m a mother, so I really need more patience, just dealing with people – period.
Elev8: What do you see at present is the greatest challenge that is facing the body of Christ today?
Coko: People. We need to just stop judging one another and just talking so much. Less talk more prayer – I think that’s what we need.
Elev8: Is there anything else you would like our readers at Elev8 to know?
Coko: I just really thank everybody for the love and support from SWV and for those that have crossed over with me into my gospel [career]. That means so much to me. I really appreciate it. I just pray that everybody would continue to follow me.
“The Winner In Me” is available July 14, 2009 in stores and online – watch for it!
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