An Interview With Shirley Caesar
The Lady with a Melody and a Word

She might not be the top selling gospel artist, but Shirley Caesar is almost without a doubt the most universally celebrated. Think about it. While not everyone in your house might be willing to throw their hands up to Kirk's Revolution, you and your mama - grandma too - got your praise on when Shirley declared that you were next in line for a miracle.

Even with a track record of success, both solo and with the legendary group The Caravans, Shirley is not resting on her laurels. In addition to releasing a brand new Christmas album last year along with her biography, The Lady, The Melody and The Word, Shirley recently started classes at Duke University to earn her Master's Degree.

For Shirley, everything she does is about ministry. "I was a very young adult when I noticed God's calling on my life," she told GospelFlava. "I praise God for that." However, neither Duke University nor any of the lessons she has learned as a pastor, evangelist or gospel artist will ever influence her ministry as much as the lessons in giving and sharing she learned from her mother.

"I watched my mom," Shirley says. "She didn't teach me by word. She taught me by actions. I watched mama and I watched her feed other folks. I saw my mom give second hand clothes to others in the community. I learned giving and sharing and through that I learned what true ministry is." Inspired by her mother's legacy, Shirley donates 50% of her earnings to her outreach ministry that helps needy families in the Raleigh/Durham area.

Pursuing her master's degree will not keep Shirley out of the public eye. In addition to more acting roles (she appeared in the motion picture Why Do Fools Fall In Love and the TV comedy Good News), Shirley is planning a new album for release in 1999 which she says may feature the likes of Mariah Carey, Aretha Franklin and Patti LaBelle. "My record label (Myrrh Black Music Division) is pulling out all the stops for my next project," she said.

One project that is not in the plans for Caesar is a recording reuniting the Caravans. "There was talk of that a few years ago, but not much has been said about it recently," she admits. "Its not quite as exciting an idea as it would have been five or ten years ago."

Shirley, who describes herself as "a traditional gospel singer with a contemporary flavor" admits that the song she wrote for The Prince of Egypt Inspirational Soundtrack ended up even more contemporary than she expected. "I recorded the vocals and sent them to the young man who produced the song (Kevin Bond), " She recounts. "When I got it back, it was the way you heard it now. I didn't even know who was singing background. But I love it."

Shirley appears most proud of her book, The Lady The Melody and The Word, which she describes as simply her life story. She says the book came about as the result of changes in the recording industry. "For years I would write little spurts about my life in the liner notes on the back of my albums but now that we don't have the big albums anymore, I had no space to do that on the CDs or cassettes," Shirley explains. "So I decided to write the book."

No doubt a woman who describes her beauty regimen as "work extremely hard and then when you get through working hard, work some more," has a lot to write about. No problem. Most gospel music lovers don't have a problem reading it, because when you look up gospel music in the dictionary, Shirley Caesar is the face that looks back.

interview by Mark Christian Tilles

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