Shirley Caesar


Shirley Caesar is widely recognized as the “Queen of Gospel Music.” She has won 11 Grammy Awards, has sung for Presidents and foreign dignitaries and is in the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. In 1999 she was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship, which is the federal government’s highest honor for folk and traditional arts.

Shirley Caesar is from a large family. “I’m kinda like Aretha,” said Pastor Caesar while preaching at Aretha Franklin’s funeral. “I’m one of 13 children, 12 are gone and I’m still hear, had it not been for the Lord…” Pastor Caesar was asked to preach by the Franklin family. They were in the front row alongside Louis Farrakhan, Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson and other dignitaries as the legendary soul singer was laid to rest.

Shirley Caesar performed in PineCone’s 2022 Down Home Concert Series.

“We don’t know everything about the origins of gospel,” said President Obama while introducing Shirley Caesar at a White House event. “But we do know that its origin is rooted in the spirituals sung by the slaves. Even though they were often forbidden to read and write or speak freely, slaves were permitted to sing. Songs were where their dreams took flight. Where they expressed faith and love as well as pain and fear and unimaginable loss… Gospel music has evolved over time, but its heart remains true. It still has an unmatched power to strike the deepest chord in all of us. Touching people of all faiths and of no faith.”

A couple years after that White House visit with the Obamas, the Grammy Awards gave Shirley Caesar a Lifetime Achievement Award. At the time she said, “I have no idea why the Lord has blessed me so immeasurably. But here I am, after all these years.”

Despite all the awards and honors, there’s still nothing bigger for Shirley Caesar than Mother’s Day. That was evident at her PineCone performance on Thursday, May 5, 2022 at Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh.

“My mother was my greatest supporter,” said Shirley Caesar to Ebony Magazine. Caesar lost her father early and she and her 12 brothers and sisters were raised in Durham by their mother. Shirley and her mom remained close until she passed in 1986. Caesar says the memory of her mother still inspires her work as Senior Pastor at Mount Cavalry Word of Faith Church in Raleigh. “I have an outreach ministry where I go on the road and I sing and fifty percent of monies made I give it back to the Lord by helping people, helping folk. My mom did the same thing. In fact, I learned by observation. I learned by watching my mother. My mother would go down in the deep freeze and takeout food and feed the hungry. We would gather clothes for children, for families that had nothing… I miss my mom and I loved my mother.”

Some of Shirley Caesar’s biggest hits were inspired by her mother, and the role mothers play in our lives. Caesar’s song “No Charge” tells the story of a little boy who comes home and gives his mother an invoice for all he does for the family. He’s charging $5 for mowing the lawn, $1 for making his bed all week. He charged $2 for raking the yard and 25-cents to play with his little brother while his mom went shopping. In Caesar’s song, the mother listens to the child patiently and then replies with a long list of all she’s done for him. By the end of the verse Caesar sings, “There’s no charge my son. When you add it all the real cost of my love is no charge.”

In addition to “No Charge,” Caesar performed her classics “I Remember Mama” and “Faded Rose” in honor of her mother. “I still miss her every day,” Caesar says. It’s a theme that’s heard over her more than 40 albums and compilations.