Pastor Shirley Caesar
GTA: You are doing a great work across this massive globe. Your career and musical ministry spans over 50 some years, gospel music has evolved, yet you remain relevant and timeless. What do you credit that to?
SC: Well, number one, I think that we need to sing and minister to the needs of the people. I live in this world; it’s friendly, but yet it is an unfriendly world as well. Whenever I record songs, I’m careful about the songs I pick and choose because they must speak to what is happening now. God has given me this longevity because my heart and my mind are to answer the call of what’s happening now.
GTA: You credit the Late Great Albertina Walker as being a key influence and mentor in your career. What did she share with you that most impacted you?
SC: When I joined The Caravans I was 18 years old going on 19 years old. I think I joined them in August and turned 19 in October. I never lived in a city like Chicago and it was Albertina that taught me how to be a young lady. She taught me how to be professional. Albertina was such a great singer and I’m so glad that she loaned me her shoulders that I could stand on. As a result of that I was able to look further than what she was able to do. Just like the singers today that are standing on my shoulders, they are able to see further also.
GTA: Tell us about the time that you traveled with The Caravans, about how good God has been to you that brought you all the way up to today.
SC: Well, if I tell you that I will be talking for quite awhile! I know something about segregation. I know something about being on the road singing and not being able to get out of the hotels. In spite of all of that, the Lord brought us through it all. I remember a time when we were travelling to Birmingham and I was so hungry but we were not allowed in any of the white restaurants. We came upon a roadshow, where a lot of Afro-American kids and the food that we had was undercooked. I got food poisoning and I thought I was going to die. By the time we got to Birmingham the next morning, I had to be a trooper. At that time you sung live on the radio to advertise for the show. The Caravans were up at 7 am to sing on the radio. I was sick all night long the previous night, but I had to be a trooper. Those were hard days and I thank God for bringing me through. That’s just a drop in the bucket of some of the stuff we went through.
GTA: You have received a plethora of awards, Dove, Stellar, etc. All types of awards and accolades, at the end of the day, Pastor, what are you most proud of?
SC: My Grammy! If you notice, I didn’t put an “S” on it. I thank God for all 11 of my Grammys, but I’m especially grateful for my very first one for “Put Your Hands In The Hand Of The Man From Galilee.” We were in New Orleans, LA and we had to sing in Homer, LA that night and I could not go to the Grammys. The next morning, my sister, Ann, was knocking on the door saying, “Shirley, Shirley, you won a Grammy!” I didn’t even know I had been nominated. At that particular time, as far as a Traditional Gospel Singer, I was the first to ever receive a Grammy. Now, Mahalia Jackson received one in 1955, but I think hers was for something else.
GTA: Absolutely incredible! After you found out you won, what did that do to you? How did that make you feel?
SC: First thing, my sister and I were dancing around the floor just shouting, “We won! We won!” Secondly, you know Grammys don’t sell CDs but it made me feel special because I come from a long line of poor folk. I wasn’t born with a gold or a silver spoon, not even a rusty spoon in my mouth. I’m one of 13 children and my mother was a semi-invalid. Having had that privilege of winning my first Grammy or a Grammy made me feel special. The Lord let me know that this was just the beginning and that He was not through blessing me. I am a living witness that He hasn’t finished.
GTA: Along with pastoring your church, Mount Calvary Word of Faith, you also run an outreach ministry. Can you tell us a little bit about the program and its mission?
SC: Many years ago, as a result of the way I grew up, we didn’t have hardly anything. I have a book out, The Lady, The Melody, and The Word, and all of that is in my book. We didn’t have hardly anything. If we were poor, we didn’t know it because everybody in our community was just like we were. As I watched my mother, she taught me giving. I learned through observation. My mother would take a portion of what we had and she would give it to other needy families. If we were out in the yard playing and little children were out in the yard playing with us, when mom called us in to eat, those children came in to eat, too. We did not have a whole lot of stuff, but I made up my mind that one day God was going to bless me to give back. People in our community would come and knock on my mother’s door and say, “Mama Caesar, I cooked a big batch of rolls and I had a lot left over, take this and feed your children.” One man, Mr. Peterson, had a hog-killing day and he came by with a big shoulder and he said, “Okay, Mama Caesar, this is for you and your children.” The people would dig in their gardens and bring collard greens and things and so I watched mama as she shared that and we had been blessed. So, I said one day, I’m going to be able to give back. I started my outreach ministry. The Lord spoke to me one time and He said, “Feed my sheep.” I said, “Well Lord, I’m singing and I’m ministering.” I thought he was talking about that. I was in the Consolers Home in Florida and it was on Thanksgiving Day and I heard the Lord and He spoke in my spirit and said, “Feed my sheep.” I told my mother and she said, “What were you doing at that time?” I told her I was getting ready to eat. I had just seen in our neighboring state, little hungry children. Mama aid maybe the Lord is talking about natural food. I went to the Ministerial Alliance in Durham, NC and I told them what the Lord had said and wanted to know if all of their churches would join in with me to help to be a blessing. The President of the Ministerial Alliance said to me, “Well the Lord told you to do it,” as if to say well He didn’t tell us, He told you. I left there befuddled and discouraged, because if you can’t go to the church folk, who can you go to? One night I was driving past a church with a Black congregation but a Caucasian pastor. They asked me to have words and I told them what the Lord told me. They raised me an offering that night. I took that money and I began to buy canned goods, non-perishable foods, with the exception to chickens, I had crates of chickens. Oak Grove Free Will Baptist Church was the first to allow me to set up something out back. We were able to feed hundreds of families. I have been doing it ever since. I’ve been feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and giving some kind of emergency help. In the summertime I try to give fans to the elderly and in the wintertime I try to do something to help them with their fuel. Here I am, I was a struggling young woman and still am, but let me tell you something. The Greater One that’s in me blesses me and helps me to help somebody else.
GTA: You touch and continue to touch so many through your various ministries, pastoring and music ministry. How do you balance it all, Pastor, and what do you do to restore your own spirit?
SC: Every time I get a chance I have to rest, because I’m a hard worker. Every time I walk in and see my bed I say, “Bed, here I come!” The main way that I’m able to do it is that I have some wonderful people working with me. My manager, Carolyn Sanders, who is also apart of my ministry at the church and my husband, Bishop Harold Ivory Williams and I have some wonderful people that work with me. My Minister of Music, Mike Mathis, is a blessing. I don’t have all that load on me that I would have if I didn’t have them.
GTA: Tell us about Bishop, how is he doing these days and what is going on in his world?
SC: Daddy Harold is doing fine. He is getting ready to celebrate his birthday. A dear friend of mine is coming from South Caroline, the Bishop Floyd Nolin and a lot of other wonderful pastors. We are going to celebrate his birthday because he is turning 92. Isn’t that a blessing?
GTA: Hallelujah! That is a wonderful blessing. Pastor, when is your birthday?
SC: October 13! This is 2013 so this is going to be a good year.
GTA: Hallelujah! As we move quickly into the music forum, is there a preference for you, contemporary or traditional gospel music, and tell us why?
SC: I like all kinds of gospel music, but my love is traditional. What I’m doing, now, is singing traditional with a contemporary flavor because I don’t want to look around and the gospel world has gone so far from me. If you look over your shoulder, you’re going to see me because I’m not going to lag but so far behind. Gospel music is big business. It’s bigger than Jazz, it’s bigger than Classical music and it’s about to overtake the Blues. I’m so grateful that there are many genres of it, but I would say that traditional gospel is my favorite.
GTA: How do you feel about the power of gospel music that transforms the lives and teaches people about the power of God?
SC: It is more than wonderful because there are some people who will not go to church to hear The Word. This is what I really meant when I started out because we have to make sure that our lyrics will bring some kind of deliverance because people that will not go to church, they’ll come to an auditorium to hear you sing. You’ve got to make sure that what you are singing will meet their needs. I don’t’ even have an adjective to describe the good that gospel music is doing. All you’ve got to do is listen to all of these singers, both, young and old and you will know that it’s blessing the people in spite of…in spite of the fact that we need gun control, in spite of the fact that they are coming in and shooting up one another and it seems like a persons life is not worth much anymore. Thank God for a song. Thank God for a good gospel song. Thank God for “Amazing Grace” and “My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less Than Jesus’ Blood And His Righteousness.” Thank God for all of these wonderful hymns that we can always go back to. At the end of the day when “Stomp” is not working and when a lot of these other songs are not working you can always go back to songs like “On Christ The Solid Rock I Stand;” you can go back to “Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on and let me stand.” Those songs will never, never die and I’m going to be apart of it.
GTA: When you think about that struggling parent or that struggling father, Pastor, what is your message of love and hope to those individuals?
SC: My hope for them is that they will let God abide, that they will not give up during their struggle because everybody is struggling with something. The only way that you can get to where you want to go is that you’ve got to go through it. My prayer is that you don’t get stuck during the struggle but go through it and come out more than a conqueror. I can really talk on that, but I don’t want to go into preaching because I beginning to feel this thing.
GTA: Your single, “God Will Make A Way,” written and produced by James Fortune has already made it’s way to radio. You also worked with Kurt Carr on this album. How has it been working on this new album with these great men of God and the process, in general?
SC: Let me start with James Fortune, first, because I only did two songs with him and the best one, in my opinion, they did not release that as the single. I’d like to start with him because I recorded those two songs in Durham, right down the street from where I grew up. It was wonderful. I had more time to live with his songs. Kurt Carr is so powerful, until while I was recording one song he was at home writing another song. He wrote at least six of the songs and had 12 for me. I had two or three and Michael Mathis, my musician wrote one. The two songs I recorded with James were so easy because I had the privilege to live with those two songs and I had the privilege to really learn them before going into the studio. Now, let me talk to you about Kurt Carr, the genius. Both of these young men are geniuses. Kurt Carr asked for some of my songs so that he could really hear pretty much what I wanted. From that he came up with songs like “Good God,” a powerful song. He went back to Chicago and pulled the Tommy’s out. I recorded with them almost 30 years ago and reunited me with them. He came up with another one, “God Is Not Through With Me Yet.” Both of these writers are awesome. I spent more time with Kurt Carr because he produced this CD, with the exception of two songs.
GTA: What is your favorite song on this project?
SC: Wow! That’s kind of hard to say because Kurt Carr wrote some powerful songs. I wrote Holy Boldness and did it in one take. It took weeks and weeks to complete this CD, because he was writing for me while I was recording. It took a long time. I have never taken this long to complete a CD and that’s why I believe that this one is going to be a blessing. There is one in there that really blesses me, that says if you really love someone tell them today. There’s another one that Brother Mike and I wrote, you know when people ask me how I’m doing, I say I’m fighting the good fight and winning. Brother Mike wrote another song, “More and More Like Jesus Christ.” At this stage in all of our lives, we ought to long to me more like the Lord. There are so many good songs on there and I’m hoping and praying that radio will not let them slip by. I also love, “It’s Nice To Be Nice.” I’m singing about what you send out comes back to you, what goes around comes back around. When you go in restaurants be nice to the waiters and waitresses. I’m singing about all of that, because it’s just nice to be nice. Jesus said it don’t forget it. I remember taking a lady to get her social security and the lady that was working there talked to her any kind of way. In that song, “It’s Nice To Be Nice,” I talk about how God gave you that job and He didn’t give you that job to sit high and look low on people because what goes around comes around. It’s the anthem of my CD.
GTA: Pastor, you’ve worked with so many artists over the years, is there anyone else you would like to work with in the music industry?
SC: Andrae Crouch. I think that he is certainly legendary and at this stage in his life and my life, I would certainly love to work with him.
GTA: The Late Great Inez Andrews went home to be with the Lord, what could we take away from her life and legacy?
SC: Inez was the High Priestess in gospel. I gave her that name 40 years ago. Her life, blessed so many people. There was no other singer out there that could touch her. Her natural voice could span two or three octaves.
GTA: Available in stores, March 26th, the awesome work, Good God.
SC: God bless you!