Shirley Caesar

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Shirley Caesar
Caesar in 1997
Caesar in 1997
Background information
Birth nameShirley Ann Caesar[1]
Also known asPastor Shirley Caesar
The First Lady of Gospel
Born (1938-10-13) October 13, 1938 (age 82)[2]
Durham, North Carolina, U.S.[2]
GenresGospel, Christian hip hop
Occupation(s)Singer, pastor
Years active1951–present
LabelsArtemis Gospel, Light Records
Associated actsAlbertina Walker
James Cleveland
The Caesar Singers
The Caravans
Inez Andrews
Dorothy Norwood
Patti LaBelle

Shirley Ann Caesar-Williams (born October 13, 1938 in Durham, North Carolina), known professionally as Shirley Caesar, is an American gospel singer, songwriter and recording artist whose career has spanned seven decades. A multi-award-winning artist, with 12 Grammy Awards along with Dove Awards and Stellar Awards to her credit, she is known as the "First Lady of Gospel Music" and "The Queen of Gospel Music."[3] She began recording at the age of 12 in 1951 on the Federal recording label[4]

Shirley Caesar has released over forty albums. She has participated in over 16 compilations and three gospel musicals, Mama I Want to Sing, Sing: Mama 2 and Born to sing: Mama 3. She is also the creator of the #unameit challenge, which occurred during one of her song sermonettes. She opened her eponymous store and plans on using the profits to help others during the holiday season.

Caesar's credits also include a series of commercials for MCI Communications and numerous awards for her recordings. She has won 12 Grammy Awards (plus honored with The Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award), 14 Stellar Awards, 18 Doves, 1 RIAA gold certification, an Essence Award, McDonald's Golden Circle Lifetime Achievement Award, NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award, SESAC Lifetime Achievement Award, Rhapsody & Rhythm Award from the National Museum of African American Music, as well as induction into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. According to Soundscan, she has sold 2.2 million albums since 1991.[5] She has made several notable appearances, including the televised Live from Disney World Night of Joy, the Gospel According to VH1, a White House performance for George Bush, and a speech on the Evolution of Gospel Music to the US Treasury Department.[6] In 2017, Caesar was honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award from The Recording Academy.[7]

Musical career[edit]


Caesar first began singing and performing for family and friends. She began singing as Baby Shirley Caesar all over the Carolinas as invitations poured in. She could only perform on weekends due to being in school during the weekdays. Her professional music career began in 1958 at 19, when she approached Albertina Walker about joining The Caravans, one of the most popular gospel groups at that time. Albertina wanted the vocally talented young Shirley Caesar in her group after hearing her sing a solo. Caesar decided to halt her education to join the group.

Caesar recorded and performed with Albertina Walker, Cassietta George, Inez Andrews, Delores Washington, Josephine Howard, Eddie Williams and James Herndon while in the Caravans. Her biggest hit with the Caravans was the song "Sweeping Through the City" followed by "No Coward Soldier". After eight years with the Caravans, she decided to leave after being offered a solo recording contract with Hob Records. Her first LP on the Hob label was entitled I'll Go, backed up by the Institutional Radio Choir and includes the classics "Oh Peter, Don't Be Afraid" and "Choose Ye This Day". Other hits soon followed with recordings such as "Satan, We're Gonna Tear Your Kingdom Down", "God's Not Dead, He's Yet Alive" and the classic "Don't Drive Your Mama Away". In 1971, Shirley won her first Grammy Award for her recording of "Put Your Hand in the Hand of the Man", and in 1975, her recording of the song "No Charge" became an instant hit and her first gold record. Despite this success, she wanted to reach larger audiences and felt this wasn't being achieved with Hob Records, so she decided not to renew her record contract with them, which ended that same year.

To reach more people with her music, Caesar signed with a secular record label called Roadshow Records in 1977 and released the debut album entitled First Lady. The producer of the album titled the album First Lady because Caesar was the first female to ever record on the label. The album contained songs with strong gospel lyrics, but many within the gospel community felt that the music itself was "too worldly," and many gospel DJ's refused to play it on their radio station. One song, however, "Faded Rose", later became a Caesar classic. Overall, the album sold poorly, but the "First Lady" title caught on within the gospel industry, and concert announcers, DJ's and gospel promoters everywhere started introducing her as "The First Lady of Gospel Music", a title that has been associated with her ever since. The second and final album she recorded for Roadshow was From the Heart in 1978; it was poorly received for the same reason. Caesar searched for a gospel label and finally decided to sign with Word Records in 1980 and went on to win several more Grammy Awards during the next several years and beyond. She stayed with Word records for many years and recorded some of the biggest hits of her career such as "God's Got It All in Control", "Hold My Mule" (which later went viral as a Thanksgiving-related Internet meme under the title "You Name It"),[8] "He's Working It Out for You", "Jesus, I Love Calling Your Name" and "You're Next in Line for a Miracle".

She has made a name for herself in the gospel music circuit, making guest appearances on the Bobby Jones gospel show and other popular television shows. Caesar credits Albertina Walker as her mentor and "Queen of Gospel Music".

Between 1981 and 1995, she received seven Dove Awards for Black Gospel Album of the Year for Live at the G.M.W.A., Celebration, Christmasing, Sailin‘, Live ... In Chicago, Go and Rejoice. She received two Black Gospel Song of the Year Awards for "He's Working It Out for You" and "Hold My Mule". She has performed with such performers as Patti LaBelle, Whitney Houston, Dorothy Norwood, Faith Evans, Dottie Peoples, Arnold Houston, Kim Burrell, John P. Kee, Kirk Franklin, Tonex, and Tye Tribbett among others. Shirley Caesar is also an actress. She acted in movies, such as Why Do Fools Fall in Love (1998) with Larenz Tate and Little Richard, Fighting Temptations (2003) with Beyoncé and Cuba Gooding Jr. and The Unseen (2005) with Steve Harris. She also acted in an episode of The Good News in 1998 as Aunt Shirley.[9] Caesar also appeared onThe Parkers in 2004.

In 2016, Caesar found herself back at the very top of the Gospel Billboard chart with her newest CD release Fill This House.

Awards and honors[edit]

Caesar is a recipient of a 1999 National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, which is the United States' highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.[10]

She was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2000.[11]

Caesar was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2010.[12] She performed for President Barack and Michelle Obama at the White House in 2015 along with Aretha Franklin.

In May 2016, the National Museum of African American Music honored Caesar with the Rhapsody & Rhythm Award in Nashville, Tennessee in advance of the planned 2018 opening of the historic museum.[13]

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce proudly honored gospel singer Shirley Caesar with the 2,583rd star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Tuesday, June 28, 2016.

Education in later life[edit]

Caesar finally accomplished her dream of completing her education after many years. She returned to school and graduated with honors from Shaw University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration in 1984. She also spent time studying at the Divinity School of Duke University and has received honorary doctorates from Shaw University and Southeastern University.

Personal life[edit]

Caesar is the 10th child of 13 children. All of her siblings are now deceased. Her father Jim Caesar was a well known local gospel singer but he died suddenly when Shirley was seven years old . Her mother Hallie Caesar was a semi invalid due to a lame leg. Caesar had a special bond with her mother and took care of her until her death in 1986. Caesar married Bishop Harold I. Williams in June 1983. The couple were co-pastors of the 1,500-member Mount Calvary Word of Faith Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, until his death on July 4, 2014. Caesar is a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority. She cites her mother as a strong influence in her decision to give so selflessly of herself. Caesar has committed a sizable portion of all concert sales to her outreach ministries. Recently she has cut back on preaching and has appointed an executive pastor at her church and he provides weekly sermons to the congregation while Caesar serves as senior pastor but Caesar continues to record and perform in concert all over the country . She also continues to hold her annual outreach ministries conference . The outreach ministry provides food, clothing, shelter, toys for children and financial assistance to those in need. When asked what would she still like to accomplish, she says, "I would like to do more acting "...[14]


  • First Lady (1977)
  • From The Heart (1978)
  • Jesus, I Love Calling Your Name (1983)
  • Sailin' (1984)
  • Her Very Best (1987)
  • Live in Chicago (1988)
  • I Remember Mama (1989)
  • Go (1980)
  • He's Working It Out for You (1991)
  • Stand Still (1993)
  • Live...He Will Come (1995)
  • Just A Word (1996)
  • A Miracle in Harlem (1997)
  • Christmas with Shirley Caesar (1998)
  • You Can Make It (2000)
  • Hymns (2001)
  • Greatest Gospel Hits
  • Shirley Caesar & Friends (2003)
  • The Gospel Legends (2005)
  • I Know the Truth (2005)
  • Still Sweeping Through the City After 40 Years (2008)
  • A City Called Heaven (2009)
  • Good God (2013)
  • Fill This House (2016)


  1. ^ "Birth name reference for Shirley Ann Caesar". Retrieved May 19, 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Birth date / place reference for Shirley Caesar". Retrieved May 19, 2017.
  3. ^ Law, John (August 17, 2018). "Aretha Franklin: The Review's talk with the Queen of Soul".
  4. ^ Boyer, Horace Clarence (1995). The Golden Age of Gospel. University of Illinois Press. pp. 220–. ISBN 978-0-252-06877-5.
  5. ^ Trust, Gary (September 18, 2009) Ask Billboard: Madonna, Yoko Ono, Gospel. Billboard
  6. ^ "Shirley Caesar AOL Music bio". AOL Music. Archived from the original on October 19, 2008.
  7. ^ "Shirley Caesar, 11-Time Grammy Award Winner, Receives Lifetime Achievement Award Honor". The Christian Post.
  8. ^ "Shirley Caesar Cried When She Learned 'You Name It' Went Viral". November 17, 2016. Retrieved February 13, 2020.
  9. ^ "The Good News (TV Series 1997–1998)". IMDb.
  10. ^ "NEA National Heritage Fellowships 1999". National Endowment for the Arts. Archived from the original on May 21, 2020. Retrieved December 18, 2020.
  11. ^ "Shirley Caesar". Inductees Archive. Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Retrieved March 14, 2018.
  12. ^ "2010 Inductees". North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  13. ^ "NMAAM – The National Museum of African American Music " NMAAM Hosted Successful 2016 My Music Matters™: A Celebration of Legends Luncheon". Archived from the original on May 21, 2016.
  14. ^ "ABOUT OUR PASTORS". Mt. Calvary Word of Faith Church. Retrieved July 30, 2012.