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From Home To Hollywood, Tena Clark’s New Memoir

photo of Tena Clark
photo by Stephanie Rocha

 Tena Clark may not be a household name, but most people have heard her music. She has written and produced for legends like Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle and Leann Rimes. She won a Grammy for her work with Natalie Cole, and contributed to the soundtracks for hit movies like “Hope Floats” and “My Best Friend’s Wedding.”

Clark’s career took off after college when she had a serendipitous encounter with Stevie Wonder, but she had been confident about her talent from a young age. She once bet her sister $10 that she would be famous in the music industry. Her story begins in rural Mississippi with a drunken mother, a philandering father and a curiosity about why she was so different from her three older sisters. Tena Clark shares many of these stories in “Southern Discomfort: A Memoir” (Touchstone/2018). She joins host Frank Stasio to talk about the early days that paved the way to her success, the inspiration for her memoir and her fight to protect the rights of women and the LGBTQ community. Tena Clark will read from her book Wednesday, Oct. 10 at 7 p.m. at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh.


Interview Highlights

Tena on the bet she made with her older sister when she was 10:

Maybe it was wishful thinking, but at that time I was very determined. Even at that early of an age all I thought about was music. I think I was probably trying to get out of studying that day or something ... I said: By the time I’m 35, I’m gonna be somebody.


On her early passion for the drums:

Well my mother said I was even beating rhythms on the crib. Now I don’t know if that’s true or not, but that’s what she used to say ...  I wanted to play the drums, and my parents said I could not play the drums because the drums were not for girls. Well that’s kind of like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

book cover Southern Discomfort by Tena Clark
Grammy Award winning producer Tena Clark shares stories from her childhood and her career in Hollywood.

On the turmoil in her parents marriage:

My mom told me my entire life I was the “save the marriage” baby that didn’t save the marriage … There’s no way you can think arguing and fighting and going at it all the time and in the way that they did was normal, but I think it becomes a new normal for you.

On Stevie Wonder offering her a one-way ticket to Los Angeles:

My mother was wanting to do cartwheels she was so excited for me. My dad, he said that he would disown me. That if I went to California with a black man … I think he thought I was in love. All he knew is I was running off with this guy. He didn’t even know who he was. My dad knew nothing about music.  


Dana is an award-winning producer who began as a personality at Rock 92. Once she started creating content for morning shows, she developed a love for producing. Dana has written and produced for local and syndicated commercial radio for over a decade. WUNC is her debut into public radio and she’s excited to tell deeper, richer stories.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.