Shirley Caesar -


About Shirley Caesar

After hearing the voice of God during a college exam, Shirley Caesar (born 1938) believed it was her duty to spread the Gospel. This "calling" has developed into 150 concerts per year, volunteer work for the poor, numerous Grammy awards, and over 30 record albums.


The tenth of 12 children, Shirley Caesar was born October 13, 1938. Her father James was a tobacco worker who was well-known in the Carolinas as the lead singer in a gospel quartet, the Just Came Four. Shirley began singing with the group at age ten. In 1951, at thirteen, she recorded her first song "I'd Rather Have Jesus." While still in high school, she toured throughout the Carolinas.


Her determination took Shirley to North Carolina Central College where she studied business education. She has said that she got the call to God's work in the middle of a typing test. According to Kim Hubbard of People, she heard someone call out her name. Shirley turned to the young woman next to her and asked if she had spoken.

When Shirley went home, she lay on the bed, and heard the same voice: "Behold, I have called you from your mother's womb and I have anointed your lips to preach the gospel." Shirley believed that this was a message that foretold special work for her in spreading the Gospel. Around the same time, Shirley heard Chicago's female gospel group, the Caravans, and she saw an opportunity to answer the call. She sought an audition with the group, was immediately hired, and left school for a life of singing and ministry.


Along the way, Shirley found a male counterpart in the singer James Cleveland and they made several records together. They became known as the "King and Queen of Gospel." Shirley formed her own group in 1966 called the Caesar Singers, but she would reunite with the Caravans and the Reverend Cleveland occasionally throughout the years. In 1971, she won her first Grammy, for the popular song "Put Your Hand in the Hand of the Man from Galilee."  Shirley went on to win the award 11 times.


Among her numerous honors are 18 Dove awards, the Gospel Music Association's highest tribute. She was inducted into the Gospel Hall of Fame in 1982. She was the first female gospel artist to perform at Harvard University. In recent years, Shirley Caesar moved into other media, making several videos: Live in Memphis ,I Remember Mama, and He Will Come. Broadway found that the gospel singer could conquer a big city when Shirley packed them in for the musical Mama I Want to Sing (1994). Her second Broadway musical in 1995 was titled Sing: Mama 2 and her third in 1996 was titled Born to Sing! Mama 3. Perhaps her proudest achievement was the creation of a ministry in Durham to provide emergency funds, food and shelter for the needy, the Shirley Caesar Outreach Ministries. When Shirley ran for public office and was elected to the Durham City Council in 1987, she concentrated her efforts on housing and care for the poor and elderly.


Indeed a living legend, she has made several notable appearances including a series of commercials for MCI Communications, the televised Live from Disney World Night of Joy, the Gospel According to VH-1, a White House performance for George Bush, and a speech on the Evolution of Gospel Music to the US Treasury Department.

Besides being the minister of her church in North Carolina and performing concerts nationwide, Shirley finds the time to get her messages of encouragement and peace to people.  Casear believes that with all the suffering and hardships in the world people will listen to her recordings and be encouraged.