The word for this week is……Trailblazer.
Gospel music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My memories of going to choir rehearsal at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church with my grandmother, Johnnie Mae Shaw I’ll never forget. I also have vivid memories of her listening to gospel music on 1430AM, 90.9FM and even cassette tapes. It was those cassette tapes that piqued my interest in gospel music. I’d like to think my favorite gospel songs playlist started when I was around 8 or 9 years old with the legendary Clark Sister’s song, “You Brought the Sunshine” and “Hold My Mule” from a woman many refer to as the “First Lady of Gospel Music”, Pastor Shirley Caesar. The month of March is designated as Women’s History Month and to keep the celebration going I thought it would be fitting to spotlight a woman that has been instrumental to women’s history as well as the church and gospel music.
Pastor Shirley Ann Caesar is without question a servant of God, dedicated to ministry and has a well-documented resume to prove it. Born in 1938 in Durham, North Carolina Shirley Caesar has been singing since age 12. A graduate of Shaw University, a Historically Black College and University, and she’s a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. So, spotlighting this gospel music trailblazer was a no brainer.
Caesar’s a woman that’s been influential in the success of gospel music for almost six decades (a long time). Her voice is like none other and no matter where you are when you hear her voice, you automatically know who’s singing or preaching. It’s always good to see an artist of any genre thriving 10 years after debuting, it’s an even greater accomplishment to still be relevant almost sixty years later.
Mark 9:23 reads, “And Jesus said to him, “If you can, all things are possible for one who believes”. Caesar’s success with the world renowned gospel group, “The Caravans” was just the beginning. The group’s notoriety catapulted her into the spotlight along with many of gospel music’s legends like Albertina Walker, Dorothy Norwood, Inez Andrews, Delores Washington and James Cleveland. Caesar acknowledges Albertina Walker (1929-2010) as the “Queen”, “The one who gave me a chance”. The opportunity the late Albertina Walker provided has manifested itself into more than 40 recorded albums, garnered in multiple Grammy, Stellar, Dove, and NAACP awards.
Wait! It doesn’t stop there, Pastor Shirley Caesar is a part of the 2016 inductee class and will receive a coveted star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, CA.
Gospel music is known for its dominant vocals which command your attention while telling stories through Christian lyrics and experiences. Shirley Caesar embodies this definition over-and-over again with songs like “ I Remember Mama”, “He’s Working It Out For You”, “Jesus, I Love Calling Your Name” and “Hold My Mule”. As I mentioned earlier “Hold My Mule” is on my Top 10 list but as a young child the imagery she provided of “Old Shouting John” was questionable for me because I didn’t understand why John’s actions were frowned upon at his church. “I will give thee thanks in the great congregation: I will praise thee among much people”, Psalms 35:18 states. I was always taught that praising God was a good thing and praise comes in many forms. Now as an adult the message is clear and the manner in which Pastor Caesar introduced the world to John will never be duplicated.
Gospel music is evolving and sometimes when there’s change you lose some folk. Shirley Caesar is a house-hold name. A name that’s synonymous with gospel music and as an artist she’s not afraid to change it up every now and again. She’s had collaborations with Dottie Peoples, Desmond Pringles, R&B singer Patti Labelle and even contemporary gospel pioneer, Kirk Franklin. Caesar is dedicated to her ministry and continues to impact the church and her fans in order to save souls. this is why her most recent single is definitely one for everybody. The new single is entitled, “It’s Alright, It’s Ok” featuring R&B soul singer/songwriter Anthony Hamilton. Although Caesar has paired with various artist before this duet with Hamilton continues to bridge the gap between generations as well as debunking the stigma surrounding traditional and contemporary gospel.
Just like a few of her records, Pastor Shirley Caesar is certified gold throughout the industry. She’s looked upon by a number of peers in the industry today which will allow her dedication, contributions and achievements to last a life-time. Make certain you get out and support gospel music and let me know what you think of Shirley Caesar’s newest single, “It’s Alright, It’s Ok” and I’ll keep you up-to-date when the entire projects is available for purchase.
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