- - Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Singer, songwriter and pastor Shirley Caesar is an icon known as “The First Lady of Gospel Music.” In a career spanning over six decades, she has won 7 Grammy Awards and 8 Dove Awards. With her recently deceased husband, Harold I. Williams, she was co-pastor of Mt. Calvary Word of Faith Church in Raleigh, N.C., for more than 20 years. She was interviewed by Armstrong Williams, executive editor of American CurrentSee.

ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS: When talking to the First Lady of Gospel Music, I have to ask about how faith has helped you cope with the struggles of life.

SHIRLEY CAESAR: I started out with my 11 siblings. Now we’re down to three. My oldest sister passed just over two months ago. I miss her a lot. She was like a mother, the matriarch of our family. I miss her a whole lot, because I would go and visit her at the home in Durham [N.C.]. We would go over there every day or every other day. I miss her. But my sister Anne was the hardest one for me, because we grew up together. Losing her felt almost like losing my mother.

I love singing. I love it. One thing that I’m trying to do is balance my life between pastoring and singing. Now, I’m getting ready to appoint a pastor, which will take some obligations from me. I have so many irons in the fire that are now burning me up.

You have accomplished so much, and you’re still going. What do you have to look forward to?

I used to hope for a Grammy, or other awards, but now I have 11 Grammys. I am not disappointed: God has been so good to me. He has shown me favor, and I am so grateful. Here I am, over 60, and still being blessed. I’m getting ready to sign with Sony. Aretha Franklin is with Sony, so you know we’re going to be doing something together.

Would you ever retire?

Life retires all of us sometime or other. But on my own, no. If I can’t go anymore or do anymore, then I just can’t. I hate to think about how one day it will come to an end. But we’re born, we live that life, that noonday, and after that you start down that hill. We know from St. Paul that the absence from the body is to be with the Lord (1 Phillippians 1:23). There is an end in sight, I just don’t want to see it right now.

Everyone is talking about your tribute to Maya Angelou.

It was wonderful. I’m so glad that I was able to go to Winston-Salem to honor this great woman. I remember that the two of us did the White House together. It was awesome. I did not know that much about her. Last year, Oprah had me and some other singers for Dr. Angelou’s 85th birthday. This time it was different, because we were able to go to the repast after the service. I remember singing “Jesus I Love to Call Your Name,” and when I started singing, some were still eating. But by the time I got into the song, they started rushing the stage to stand around. It was awesome. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Dr. Angelou sure was a hero to so many people. Who were your heroes growing up?

I guess my hero would be my oldest brother, Julius. He took me out on junior-senior prom night — I didn’t go to my prom. Being in holiness, you’re not allowed to do certain things, and I don’t miss that. I had a lot of heroes. I remember meeting Mahalia Jackson when I lived in Chicago and was with the caravans. Clara Ward was one, Albertina Walker, and I could go on and on.

What got you those 11 Grammys? What sets you apart from others?

Keep in mind that I won those years ago. I tried to sing right where the people were. They remembered how they had to hang up clothes on the line outside, before they had a washer or a dryer. They remembered losing a loved one, so I sang, “I Remember Mama.” I just sing about the things that I had gone through. I was blessed with the best mother in the world. Everything I was singing in my heart was a special dedication to my mama. Everybody loves mama. I even recorded a song, “I Love You, Mama.” It’s nothing but talking, talking to her about how she had gone without for me, bought me a Christmas gift when I really didn’t deserve it. I said, Mama, I want the majorette boots, back when the kids were all wearing them. I said, I want it for tomorrow morning. Mama said, all right, just let me pay off this bill — whatever it was — and I promise you that after Christmas we can get some. I said, I want them now! And she went out of the way and bought it for me. I felt so terribly bad about that, that I forced her to buy those boots, that I couldn’t even wear them.

What are some of your favorite Shirley Caesar albums and songs?

“No Charge” is my favorite country-gospel song. When it comes to my story-songs, “Don’t Drive Your Mama Away” or “Hold My Mule.” When it comes to just my regular songs, I think that “Jesus, I Love to Call Your Name” would be my favorite. Notice that these are all slower songs, not songs that make you dance or shout. It’s the slower songs that really bless me.

I am so grateful to the Lord for allowing my life to travel the journey that I’ve traveled. There is only one thing I would do over: I would have got married younger so that I could have had children. Other than that, there is nothing else about my past, about my life, that I would change. When your ways seem dark and dreary, and your burdens make you weary, go ahead. There is no need to cry or ask the reason why, but be sure you try, and go ahead. It’s nice to be nice: What you send out will come back to you.

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