Born on October 13, 1938, in Durham, NC; daughter of James (the lead singer in the gospel quartet Just Came Four) and Hannah; married Rev. Harold Williams, 1983. Education: Enrolled at Shaw University in business education and graduated, 1984. Addresses: Office--Shirley Caesar Outreach Ministries, Inc., P.O. Box 3336, Durham, NC 27702. Website--Shirley Caesar Official Website:

With 150 concerts a year, 25 hours a week helping the poor in her Outreach Ministries, eleven Grammys, and more than 30 albums to her credit, Shirley Caesar may seem to be a whole army of gospel singers instead of just one diminutive woman. The "Queen of Gospel" packs a lot of wallop in her small frame. Backed by a 60-person choir, rocking like a tempest, she is a bundle of fireworks on the Fourth of July. The gospel style of song and sermonette, singing that involves both the spoken word and dramatic acting, was developed primarily by Caesar. She journeys all over the world, sometimes traveling all night to return to her pulpit in Durham, North Carolina, the town where she was born. "It is not easy," said Shirley in her 1995 video He Will Come (Word Records). "In fact, sometimes it is downright mind-boggling. But, somehow, even though I'm wearing all of these hats, the Lord helps me to just barrel through it." Shirley has barreled through over 50 years of touring and preaching, starting at age ten, and she continues to bring the house down every time she performs.

The tenth of 12 children, Caesar was born on October 13, 1938. Her father James was a tobacco worker who was well-known in the Carolinas as the lead singer in a gospel quartet, the Just Came Four. Caesar began singing with the group at age ten. When she was eight, her father died, and she began touring several years later with an evangelist named LeRoy Johnson, who also had a television show in Portsmouth, Virginia. In 1951, at 13, she recorded her first song "I'd Rather Have Jesus." While still in high school, she toured throughout the Carolinas.

This was a time when Jim Crow laws were still in effect in North Carolina. Caesar remembers restaurants putting up the "CLOSED" sign when she would arrive. "I went to school in the days when all the white kids got things better," she told People. "I remember once when a lady gave cookies to all the kids in the school. The white kids got the fresh ones; we got the stale ones." Despite these obstacles, her beloved mother Hannah taught her to respect herself and to persevere.

Her determination took her to North Carolina Central College where she studied business education. She has said that she got the call to God's work in the middle of a typing test. According to Kim Hubbard of People, she heard someone call out her name. Caesar turned to the young woman next to her and asked if she had spoken. When Caesar went home, she lay on the bed, and heard the same voice: "Behold, I have called you from your mother's womb and I have anointed your lips to preach the gospel." Caesar believed that this was a message that foretold special work for her in spreading the Gospel. Around the same time, Caesar heard Chicago's female gospel group, the Caravans, and she saw an opportunity to answer the call. She sought an audition with the group, was immediately hired, and left school for a life of singing and ministry.

The Caravans had several members who became famous in the history of gospel music: Albertina Walker, Inez Andrews, and Sarah McKissick. Each woman had a different style, and Caesar's contribution was an energetic and dramatic approach where she would act out the songs and walk among the congregation, engaging the members directly. On the song "I Won't Be Back," she would run through the hall searching for an exit, then leave for a brief period. Her forte was the sermon in the middle of songs that addressed the subject of the song and expounded on its theme. She exhorted the listeners to reach out to God and to take the example of Jesus. On the subject of motherhood, she was particularly effective. Her song "Don't Drive Your Mama Away" tells of a son who is shamed for putting his mother in the rest home.

Along the way, Caesar found a male counterpart in the singer James Cleveland and they made several records together. They became known as the "King and Queen of Gospel." Caesar formed her own group in 1966 called the Caesar Singers, but she would reunite with the Caravans and the Reverend Cleveland occasionally throughout the years. In 1971, she won her first Grammy--for the popular song "Put Your Hand in the Hand of the Man from Galilee." On the night of the awards, she had returned very late from an engagement in Homer, Louisiana. People began banging on her door, and when she eventually answered, her sister Ann, one of her backup singers, shouted "You won!" It was the first Grammy for a black female gospel singer since Mahalia Jackson won the award in 1962.

Among her numerous honors are 17 Dove Awards, the Gospel Music Association's highest tribute. She was inducted into the Gospel Hall of Fame in 1982. She was the first female gospel artist to perform at Harvard University. In recent years, Caesar has moved into other media, making several videos: Live in Memphis, I Remember Mama, and He Will Come. Broadway found that the gospel singer could conquer a big city when Caesar packed them in for the musical Mama, I Want to Sing in 1994. Her second Broadway musical in 1995 was titled Sing: Mama 2. Born to Sing: Mama 3 followed soon after. Perhaps her proudest achievement was the creation of a ministry in Durham to provide emergency funds, food and shelter for the needy, called the Shirley Caesar Outreach Ministries, Inc. When Caesar ran for public office and was elected to the Durham City Council in 1987, she concentrated her efforts on housing and care for the poor and elderly. She told Ebony magazine, "My main objective is to make sure we focus on the needy and not the greedy."

Her biggest fan, the Reverend Harold I. Williams, whom Caesar has called "my pastor, my best friend, my husband," assessed his wife's character in the 1995 video He Will Come: "After twelve years, I'm going to say the same thing I said after the first year I was married to Shirley--exciting! You never know what is coming next. I mean it is exciting. It is from one thing to another. She's an exciting person. She's a joy to be around." Williams and Caesar were married in an elaborate wedding in 1983 that had 140 people in the wedding party alone. Soon after their marriage, they became co-pastors at the Mt. Calvary Holy Church in North Carolina.

Caesar released a number of albums before the end of the decade. A Miracle in Harlem, a live album released in 1997, was recorded at the First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York, and featured backup vocals from the Love Fellowship Church Choir. Caesar's autobiography, Shirley Caesar: The Lady, the Melody, the Word, was published at the same time. She released You Can Make It in 2000, an energetic collection of songs that covered a range of styles from traditional gospel to soul to R&B. Her next album, the simply titled Hymns, featured a number of guest vocalists, including Michelle Williams of pop group Destiny's Child. Once again, the recording was widely praised. A reviewer in Ebony remarked, "No one delivers down-home gospel with the conviction, depth, and earthiness of Shirley Caesar."

Over the years, Caesar has tried out many different styles of music, while keeping her message of faith and worship consistent. But while her catalog is varied, there is a consistency to it that ensures her fans will almost always be pleased by any new recordings. Drew Dawson, the manager of KHVN, a gospel music radio station in Dallas, Texas, remarked in Billboard, "There's always something that is signature Shirley Caesar, with a traditional church feel and [a] serious, deep message. It's what [her] audiences have come to depend on." Caesar knows where her popularity is coming from. "I believe God is using gospel to grab the hearts of the people," she stated in Billboard. "It's a world within itself, and my prayer is that the Lord will just continue to let it grow."

by Paul Anderson

Shirley Caesar's Career

Sang on tour with her father from age ten; after he died, joined evangelist LeRoy Johnson, 1950; first recording "I'd Rather Have Jesus," 1951; joined the Caravans, 1958; recorded "Hallelujah, It's Done," 1961; formed the Caesar Singers, 1966; sang at the White House for President George H.W. Bush, 1992; Broadway gospel musical Mama, I Want to Sing, 1994; Broadway musical Sing: Mama 2, 1995; Broadway musical Born to Sing: Mama 3, 1996; performed at President Bill Clinton's inauguration, 1997; co-pastor, Mt. Calvary Holy Church in Winston-Salem, NC, and Raleigh, NC; founded Shirley Caesar Outreach Ministries, Inc.; released Hymns, 2002.

Shirley Caesar's Awards

Grammy Award, Best Soul Gospel Performance for "Put Your Hand in the Hand of the Man From Galilee," 1971; Grammy Award, Best Soul Gospel Performance for Rejoice, 1980; induction, Gospel Hall of Fame, 1982; Grammy Award, Best Soul Gospel Performance by a Duo or Group for Sailin', 1984; Grammy Award, Best Female Soul Gospel Performance for Sailin', 1984; Grammy Award, Best Female Soul Gospel Performance for "Martin," 1985; NAACP Achievement Award, 1987; Grammy Award, Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album for He's Working It Out For You,1992; Grammy Award, Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album for Stand Still,1993; Grammy Award, Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album for Shirley Caesar Live... He Will Come, 1995; as choir director, Grammy Award, Best Gospel Album by a Choir or Chorus for Just a Word, 1996; Grammy Award, Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album for Christmas with Shirley Caesar, 1999; Grammy Award, Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album for You Can Make It, 2000; 17 Gospel Music Association Dove Awards.

Famous Works

Further Reading



Visitor Comments Add a comment…

almost 12 years ago

I love you Pastor Shirley Caesar Williams. I thank God for you and your lovely voice. Please pray for our pastor and church family. Thank you for the book signing the year you were in Memphis. Again, I love you and your ministering voice.

over 12 years ago

Great Day! Pastor Shirley Caesar Williams. You are truly a "precious gift" from God. My mother passed away in November 1997. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994. During her treatment stages, we had to travel from Selma, Alabama to Birmingham, Alabama to the cancer center. She loved every song you produced! We played "Shirley Caesar's music," non-stop. I am searching for the CD, "GO" there is a song called "Didn't we Papa" We finally made it didn't we papa? She would say that it reminded her so much of the way they lived with their own papa. Her mother passed away when she was ten years old, and they had it rough. I thank God for you Pastor Shirley. I have been trying to sing like you all of my life. The truth is... I can't do it like Shirley :) I can sing your songs, but there will never be another Shirley Carsar!!!

over 12 years ago

God bless more ma in Jesus name (amen). I am always blessed by your ministration in songs.

over 12 years ago

Pastor Caesar, I, for the very first time watched you on Youtube. Yes, I know God call you to sing to the masses and give the word. Your clothing are awesome! Pastor Caesar, I ask that you pray for me, and there's a special prayer and that is for 15 years the VA has denied my penison and I need a mircale I want to come to the front of the line please pray that God will touch their hears on my behave, satan flee mefrom me in Jesus name. God bless you and your family Pastor Caesar.

almost 13 years ago

pastor shirley willams caesare my mother and father was a fan of your for years my mother died when i was 12 years of age and my father just past on june the 5th. they really loved the gospel music the god gave you and i love the one that to your heart i dont want no peanut butter and jelly because i had was god idid not know it than but i know it now so now i really unstand what god gave you at a young age so paster i give my blessing to you and your and my family grow up with your music and some time thats all i had my blessing and i amm over 50 now and still bless by your music and we still love you. from my family to your stay bless and we love you.

over 13 years ago

Hi Shirley Caesar I thank you for sharing your God given talent with us. You have touch so many people in this world. My life will never be the same, you made the different in gospel music. God Bless You

almost 14 years ago

I am leaving this mesage the day before your birthday "2010",I just wanted to say I love your energy,music,your ministry as a pastor,I truely enjoy listening to your music no matter what ever I am going through I feel better listening to you.I visited your church the night that Lettice was there I hope her name is spelled correctly I enjoyed my self it was great.So keep up the work of the lord as you continue to touch lives and inspire folks to stay in Gods hands. I Love You for doing what you do,Happy Birthday to you and wish you many more.

about 14 years ago

God bless you Pastor Caesar it is truly a blessing to be born during the time of such a great lady from God.Please kept me in your prays. To see your gift from God over all the world is wonderful. God gives us ideas, and if you have no means of how to carry them out,you ought to tell somebody. That's why it is a blessing to see you not only acted on God's word but you carry them out in a special way to everyone. Thank you.

over 14 years ago

mrs ceasar i grew up listeing to your preaching ( the hold my mule ) church is in mourning and several others , just realized how close your churches are to me from the charlotte nc area would like to come visit 1 of the churches but i need to know which 1 u will be @ winston salem or raleigh .

almost 15 years ago

Mrs Ceasar, I really love hearing you sing and I have always admired you and your wonderful spirit. I have a gospel group and direct a community choir at my church in Warfield, Virginia. There is a friend of mine name Gloria Walker, she told me how she met you a few years ago at the Brunswick Senior High School in Lawrenceville, VA. She mentioned to me how awesome you were and how you touched her spirit. Im letting you know that I have always had a vision to have my choir sing at your church for an occasion. Is there any way that a dream like that can be achieved.

about 15 years ago

What an honor to be able to note on this profound woman of God. I was raised up on Shireley Ceasar and applaud her for not allowing time and traditions to "change" her. Her anointing has brought me through many, MANY things and have encouraged my heart. My one heart desire is to sing with her just one time before I die as I've felt her passion for both man and God all of my life. I will be 52 on June 24th and will be relocating to Wilson, NC in the near future. Looking forward to visiting your church. Thanks Sister for placing address and phone number in your post. I love you Pastor Ceasar and I love how you've elegantly displayed Christ all of your life! Thanks and keep on praising Him. Affectionately, Evang Sheila McCallum of Belleville, NJ.

about 15 years ago

Greeting: Pastor Caesar, you one are one of the greatest. I remember seating with you in St. Louis, Mo. You are so down to earth; even the short laugh we had. My daughter America met you as well and sang that same night at the concert. Since many of my mother's records was stolen from my house; I have continually looked for the album that has the song "We've finally made it didn't we papa." If anyone knows the name of the album or where I can find it. It would mean the world to me. I love you Pastor Caesar. Spending those moments with you, made my childhood dream come true. I wish that I could not only spend more time with you, but sing one song with you. His Humble Servant, Pastor L. T. Daniel P.S. Bishop Giavonni misplaced your number. He would like for you to call him if you have the time.

about 15 years ago

I am a member of Mt Calvary Word of Faith Church in Raleigh, NC where Pastor Shirley Caesar-Williams is my pastor. She has been my pastor since September 95. A great woman of GOD. If you are interested in visiting our church the address is 3100 Sanderford Road * Raleigh, North Carolina 27611 and the church phone number is 919 832 1800. We would love to have you on Sunday Morning at 11 a.m.

over 15 years ago

Praise The Lord Pastor Shirley Caesar! When I listen to your song He is working out for you, That's my faith and my truth. So I thank god for you. I am going through valley in the tunnel,but the light is still shining. can I tesify for minunte what I known our God will do. As you said in your song rent is due carpayment is due and on top of all that my only son is a diabetic locked up in jail, I called on Al Sharpton,e=mail oprah. and Tyler Perry, call 987 kiss fm and no response but Pastor Caesar, I am not fearing no man or woman. He said the battle is not mine it is god. When it rains it pours.I don't have money but what I have nobody can't take from me I was born with and you don't have to beg for it. He might now come when I want him to but he's always on time and his name his Jesus. So Pastor Caesar pray for my son in the Jesus amen. God Bless Dolores, Englewood,NJ

over 15 years ago

Good Afternoon Pastor Caesar. Its truly a blessing and enjoyment to listen to you sing God praises. My family and I wish we had the opportunity to visit your church. My name is Shannon Washington and I live in Southaven, MS. I was trying to find two songs, but don't recall the name or album, that really, really touched me: the one about you had a praying grandmother and when you all was playing church. May God continue to bless you and yours. Thank you for all your inspiration.

over 15 years ago

I am 33 years old and I have gone through some things in my life that has made me feel the lowest of low. One day I was considering committing suicide and happen to come across Shirley Caesar Song "Hes Working It Out For You". I played that song over and over again. Whenever things would start to look bad, I would play that song as a constant reminder that I was not alone. Although I haver been delivered from those feelings and I have been truly blessed in many ways, I still indulge myself in Shirley Caesar music, she is such an annoited woman and he voice is that of an angel. There is not a recording from Pastor Caesar that is released that I do not purchase. Through God's Grace and Mercy,I am here. Thank You.

over 15 years ago

Good afternoon Pastor Caesar. My name is Valerie Lewis. I am from Fredericksburg, VA and attend Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site) Members of our church are interested in visiting Pastor Caesar's church in North Carolina during the month of October 2009 when Pastor Caesar is preaching. If I don't have the correct person to contact, please direct me in the right direction (her church's phone number and address. Thank you

over 15 years ago

GOD BLESS you Pastor Ceasar's it is truly a blessing to hear you. I am very inspired by you. I can remeber when I was growing up my mom getting me ready for church on Sunday Morning she would listen to you and I still to this day listen to your preaching and singing it give me chills and I love to hear you. I just thank the Lord for you. I want to visit your church but I cannot find your address of your church can you please supply me with your address. Pastor ceasar can you pray for my family and I and once again I thank the LORD for you. PRAISE GOD......SDAVIS

over 15 years ago

Ms Caesar, GOD'S blessings to you and your family, you are truly blessed. continue to testify and proclaim God's word to all... I pray to God that you get this message, for I am asking a favor from you....Please contact D. McClurkin, and see if everything is ok with him....Do this for me please.. thank you..

over 15 years ago

hey i did my project on u. My uncle pastor Darnell Dixon u might no him told me about u I love your song I is very Holy

almost 16 years ago


almost 16 years ago

Praise God Mrs. Ceaser: You have blessed my soul everytime I hear you. Continue praising our Heavenly Father!! I must say that I sing also, I've grown up all me life hearing "she sounds just like Shrily Ceaser". I've tried to patten my life of living for Christ after you. Feel free to give me a call so we may name is Daisy M. Garnett-I have moved from Fredericksburg, Va.(which I saw you perform at Mary Washington College) to Atlanta, Georgia...hope to hear from you soon...continue to be blessed Sis. Ceaser! Love you much.

almost 16 years ago


almost 16 years ago

Praise the Lord Pastor Ceasar i didn't know any other way to contact you but i wanted to notify you of the passing of my father Pastor Kelly Easter Jr. in Seattle, WA. We were the family on your first visit to Seattle we drove you and your group, and your nephew Leroy down to Portland, oregon. My Dad and my mom have been your number one fans, he appreciate you for always seeing us after your concerts in Seattle. If you would to contact anyone you have my email and i can call you. Thank you A. Davis

almost 16 years ago

I am a number one fan of Shirley Caesar would love to visit her church before the Lord call me home,this is my wish. Could i please have have address wher her church is located, to include the Sundays that she will be bringing the message. when ever she would be in Milwaukee Wisc.Inever miss going to hear her sing. I no longer live in Milwauke, i now resides in Atlanta Ga. which is much closer for me to drive there one weekend. Looking forward for a respond. GOD BLESS Frances Gipson

over 16 years ago

I have a grandmother that like's gospel mucis

over 16 years ago