Life Remembered: Friends recall Mary Clark's smile, musical power
Mary Clark sang the blues with an enormous smile on her face.
For more than two decades, the Mary Clark Revue was a crowd-pleaser in a once-busy local nightclub scene that included Candy's Lounge, Mabel's, Nature's Table, Malibu Bay and the original Blind Pig.
All of those venues have closed, but as the night scene changed, her revue often played at Taste of Champaign-Urbana and other large outdoor parties.
Ms. Clark died Sunday at the age of 59. She was remembered as "a force of nature," as one local musician put it.
Songwriter Kristen Johns recalled the 2010 Taste, where the heat reached 106 degrees and Ms. Clark briefly passed out, only to recover her poise with a blood-pressure cuff still attached.
Some of Johns' videos of the Mary Clark Blues Revue are on YouTube, such as one of the singer fanning herself while performing "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby."
Johns recorded with Clark on "Champaign Underground" in Pogo Studios, which had a long downtown tradition.
Pogo owner Mark Rubel recalls "the sound of her laugh, and what a force of nature she was musically. Some people are all in, and that was Mary. It's always a surprise when someone seemingly larger than life turns out to be mortal."
Kevin Colravy, who lived with and was once engaged to Ms. Clark, said her health had suffered badly only recently, from liver problems.
The revue last played in August, Colravy said, as part of a WEFT benefit concert.
He remembers first seeing her around 1988 at Urbana's Nature's Table.
"She's the best female singer I've ever heard," Colravy said.
The two began playing with the late Guido Sinclair, a saxophone legend. But they performed much more often as the revue.
"We used to play all the time, sometimes playing three or four nights a week," he said. "We had regular spots, like hosting the open stage at Blind Pig blues jams on Mondays."
Colravy said Ms. Clark lived in Indiana before moving to Champaign-Urbana at about junior high age. She came from a very musical family.
"Everybody in the family sang," said her sister, Marsha Clark, who was with her at the end.
Ms. Clark worked a number of day jobs in her lifetime. Johns remembered running into her working in a dry cleaner's.
Colravy said he has beautiful recent memories of her working happily in their garden.
Fellow musicians want Ms. Clark to have a large celebration of life.
Services wil be held May 6 at Church of the Living God, 1109 N Fourth St, C.
Visitation will be at 10 a.m. and funeral services an hour later, Marsha Clark said.
R.M. "Popeye" Curtsinger came here in 1985 after the first Farm Aid, and "there were like 400 musicians all looking for a place to play."
He said that group was and is a family, and Mary Clark was an important part of that family.
She hugged him the first time they met, and always had a smile.
"There was no situation where Mary couldn't make someone in the audience feel better after a bad day," he said.
"Mary Clark was a ray of sunshine; any time you saw her she would make your heart sing," Johns added.
"She was an inspiration that never stopped," said Abraham Johnson, a longtime friend who is in the blues band Kilborn Alley.