You might recognize some of the big names in gospel music – Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams and Marvin Sapp. But hands down, the queen of Gospel music is Reverend Shirley Caesar.
Caesar, a native of Durham, North Carolina, is known for bringing traditional African-American gospel music to life. She spent her early career singing with The Caravans. As a solo artist, Caesar has won 12 Grammy Awards, 18 Dove Awards and 14 Stellar Awards, presented by the Stellar Awards Gospel Music Academy.
“I started singing when I was three or four and have been doing it ever since,” said Caesar, who also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and has sung for US presidents since Jimmy Carter. In 2015, she sang for Barack and Michelle Obama at the White House.
“Over the years, we’ve had the epitome of the sounds of America in this room, from jazz and Motown to blues and country,” Barack Obama said at the time. “So it’s only fitting that tonight we pay homage to the music that has influenced all of these genres. Gospel.”
Today, the 83-year-old looks as bold and vibrant as she did on some of her best-known songs, like her 1975 version of “No Charge.” “Hold My Mule” from his album “Live in Chicago,” stayed at number one on Billboard’s gospel chart for 52 weeks.
Caesar will likely sing his popular Mother’s Day song, “No Charge,” during Thursday’s concert at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh. It’s one of Caesar’s and the Caesar Singers’ biggest shows since the pandemic began. A choir from Shaw University, his alma mater, is also set to perform.
“It’s gonna be off the chain, girl!” said Cesar, listing the songs she would sing. “I’m going to sing ‘I Remember Mama’ and ‘Take Your Knee Off My Neck’. We’re just going to let go and let God have the right of way.
Caesar said “Take Your Knee Off My Neck” is in remembrance of George Floyd, the black man was killed in 2020 by a white police officer who held his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes.
“This boy lost his life. Well, I’m going to sing that,” Caesar said.
Caesar, is also known as Shirley Caesar Williams. Her late husband, Bishop Harold Ivory Williams, died in 2014. The couple co-pastored Mount Calvary Word of Faith Church in Raleigh for more than 30 years. Caesar says his dream is to continue building on the 53.5 acres of property to include affordable housing, a performing arts center and even a grocery store.
“A city of Calvary”, said Caesar. “This is my dream.”
At the start of the pandemic, Caesar recorded his sermons and uploaded them to YouTube. She also recorded a concert for NPR’s Tiny Desk “Black History Month” series. César is celebrated for the way she intertwines her songs and her preaching called “sermonettes”.
“You may have had heartache and pain, but you made it through,” Caesar said. “It’s about the other side of the comma. I went through, comma, but I made it. Hello!”