Born in Durham, North Carolina, Shirley Caesar is known as the “First Lady of Gospel.” By age 10, Caesar had already made a name for herself, known throughout the Carolinas and Virginia as “Baby Shirley,” and her foot-stomping, bring-down-the-house style was in high demand for church services and revivals.
Caesar has had an astonishing career spanning four decades. Her book The Lady, the Melody, and the Word is Caesar’s own story of those years, told in her intimate and passionate style. She is a graduate of Shaw University with a degree in business administration, and also received honorary doctorates from both Shaw University and Southeastern University.
“Pastor Shirley,” as she is affectionately referred to by many, has recorded over 40 albums since the 1960s, exploring her gift and spreading messages of faith. She has participated in over 16 compilations and three gospel musicals, as well as a series of commercials for MCI Communications and several awards for her recordings. Caesar is a multi-award winner with 11 Grammys and 18 Dove Awards to her credit; she has also received three RIAA gold certifications, an Essence Award, a McDonald’s Golden Circle Lifetime Achievement Award, a NAACP Achievement Award, a SESAC Lifetime Achievement Award, and induction into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
At age eight, Caesar began singing and performing for family and friends. Her professional career began at age 18 when she approached Albertina Walker about joining The Caravans, with whom she performed from 1958 until 1966. She then pursued a solo career and made a name for herself in the gospel music circuit. Caesar credits Walker as her mentor, a true legend of gospel and the “Queen of Gospel Music.” After The Caravans, Caesar started her solo career while making guest appearances on BET’s Bobby Jones Gospel and other famous talk shows.
Pastor Shirley leads a congregation of more than 1500 in Raleigh, North Carolina, at the Mount Calvary Word of Faith Church, where she co-pastors with her husband, Bishop Harold Williams. She is also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.