A giant in the spiritual music world, Shirley Caesar is known as “The First Lady of Gospel Music” thanks to a career that spans seven decades and has earned her 11 Grammy Awards, as well as 15 Dove Awards. . Shirley Caesar was born in Durham, North Carolina on October 13, 1938. Shirley was one of 13 children born to her father, James Caesar (aka Big Jim Caesar); Big Jim makes a living as a smoker but preaches the gospel in his spare time, and also sings with a gospel group. Young Shirley began joining the group on the occasion of Big Jim’s death, and with her disabled mother, she began singing at local churches to help bring in money for the family. Caesar soon went on to perform with an itinerant missionary, Leroy Johnson, and in 1951 she cut her first record, the Federal Records single, “I’m Rather Have Jesus” b/w “I Know Jesus Will Save.” In 1956, Caesar enrolled at North Carolina State College, where she majored in business education in hopes of becoming a missionary. Caesar was still singing, however, in 1958, when the popular female gospel group Caravans showed up in Durham, she asked to sing solo on behalf of a member of the band who could not appear. Caravans leader Albertina Walker was pleased with Caesar’s work, and with her family’s blessing, Shirley left college to join the Caravans full-time. In 1961 Caesar released a solo single, “Hallelujah, It’s Done”, which incorporated a sermon along with music, and she began touring as a singing evangelist during her hiatus. of the Caravan. Shirley’s work helped her develop a dynamic performing style, and when creative differences led her to leave Caravans in 1966, she was ready to begin a solo career. She soon formed her own gospel group, the Shirley Caesar Singers, and by 1969 they had signed a recording contract with HOB Records. In 1971, Caesar won his first Grammy Award for Best Gospel Soul Performance for his version of “Put Your Hand in the Hand of the Man from Galilee”, and in 1975, a cover of Melba Montgomery’s “No Charge” became a cult hit appeared. on the R&B and pop charts. From the late ’70s onward, Caesar was a dominant figure on the gospel charts, and in 1981 she won the first Gospel Music Association Dove Award for her album Rejoice (which she would receive). 14 more Dove titles in 2002, as well as 13 Stellar awards, another great honor in gospel music). While Caesar’s career was more than enough to keep most people busy, in 1969 she founded the Shirley Caesar Outreach Department to help serve the needs of the people of Durham, and the organization became a Non-profit organization registered in 1981, funded in part by Caesar’s operating fees. Also in 1981, Caesar enrolled at Shaw College to complete her business degree, and in 1987 she was elected to Durham City Council. Caesar became pastor at Mount Calvary Word of Faith in Durham, where her husband, Bishop Harold Ivory Williams, also served until his death in 2008. In addition to a recording career, Caesar has appeared on stage in the musical Mama’s Gospel, I Want to Sing and its two sequels, as well as the films The Fighting Temptations and Why Do Fools Fall in Love and the show TV show The Parkers. In 2016, Caesar got an unexpected boost in visibility when a clip from her performance of the song “Hold My Mule” featured her featuring a holiday menu that included “greens, beans, potatoes, tomatoes”, used on the viral video network. Thanks to the video, “Hold My Mule” shot to the top of Billboard’s Hot Gospel Songs chart, giving Caesar the first number one spot in the survey. As if to confirm that Caesar is not a novelty act, towards the end of 2016 Shirley received two Grammy nominations, for the album Fill This House and for her performance with Anthony Hamilton on the song ” It’s Alright, It’s OK.” In addition to these two nominations, the Recording Academy honored her with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions to the art of recording.
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