Shirley Ann Caesar-Williams was born on October 13, 1938, in Durham, North Carolina, as the 10th child of 13 children to Jim Caesar, a minister, and Hallie Caesar, a homemaker. Caesar is more popularly known for her career as a gospel musician. Her father was the lead singer in a gospel quartet; at 10, Caesar began her journey and started singing with her father. She had plenty of responsibilities while growing up and cared for her mother; however, this did not deter her from getting an education. While in school, Caesar developed her remarkable musical gift, and after hearing the voice of God during one of her college exams, she believed it was her duty to spread the gospel. She did this not only through singing ― she and her husband were co-pastors at Mount Calvary Word of Faith Church in Durham, N.C. Caesar and her husband used the church to spread the teachings of Jesus and encourage believers to live more Christ-like lives.
Shirley Caeser initially started up by singing and performing for family and friends. She received invitations from all over the Carolinas to sing as Baby Shirley Caesar. Caesar’s performances were on weekends because she was in school on weekdays. She also helped in caring for her mom, Hallie, who had limited skills due to her disability. Caesar had a special bond with her mother and cared for her until her demise in 1986. After her father, who was popularly known as Big Jim, died, she began singing at local churches to help raise money for her family.
Before his death, Big Jim was a tobacco worker and a preacher; he was well-known in the Carolinas as the lead singer in a gospel quartet, Just Came Four. Caesar joined the group at age 10. Two years later, her father died, and she began touring with Evangelist LeRoy Johnson, who also had a television show in Portsmouth. At 13, she recorded her first song, ‘I’d Rather Have Jesus.’ While still in high school, she toured the Carolinas.
After graduating from Hillside High School in Durham in 1956, Caesar’s determination took her to North Carolina Central, where she enrolled at North Carolina College to study Business Education. During an exam, she heard the voice of God speaking to her, and it was at this point she knew she needed to travel the world spreading His word. Two years into school, the prominent female gospel group known as the Caravans appeared in Durham, and Caesar was elated. She asked for the opportunity to sing a solo in place of a member who failed to show up. The group’s leader, Albertina Walker, was so pleased with Caesar’s voice and performance that she asked her to join the group. Caesar discussed this opportunity with her family and took permission from her mother to leave school to join the Caravans.
Singing with the Caravans was the beginning of Caesar’s career; her dynamic and engaging style of acting out what she sang made her shows creative and entertaining. In the 1960s, tensions developed among the members of the Caravans, and Caesar left the group and devoted herself full-time to evangelical work. She joined James Cleveland, and they made several records together and became known as the King and Queen of Gospel. Several years later, with over six decades under her belt, Caesar has made a name for herself in the gospel music industry.
Caesar records her ‘I’d Rather Have Jesus’ in high school.
Caesar forms her gospel group, the Shirley Caesar Singers.
Caesar wins her first Grammy Award for Best Soul Gospel Performance for ‘Put Your Hand In The Hand Of That Man.’
After winning over 16 Dove Awards and 12 Grammys, Caesar gets inducted into the Gospel Hall of Fame.
Caesar’s single remix of ‘Hold My Mule,’ featuring her mentor, Albertina Walker, and Milton Brunson, earns her first number one on Billboard’s Hot Gospel Songs chart.
Why We Love Shirley Caesar
She’s got a great personality
Though she has made many prolific strides in her career, Shirley has remained level-headed and down-to-earth. Many who have met her in person testify to her delightful disposition.
She is family oriented
Though her family is a big one, Caesar is big on creating time with her family. She nursed her mother until she passed and always found strength in her visits.
Her heart is big
Caesar’s contributions to the gospel music industry will continually reverberate throughout time. Her legacy goes beyond seeing herself as a humanitarian and believing everyone should get a chance.
5 Surprising Facts
Shirley Caesar performed at Harvard
She was the first female gospel artist to perform at Harvard University.
Caesar went viral
After she dropped a remix clip of her performing ‘Hold My Mule’ before Thanksgiving, the video inspired the “U Name it” challenge leading to millions of online views.
Caesar is a humanitarian worker
Caesar founded the Shirley Caesar Outreach Ministries to serve the neglected and those in need in the Raleigh-Durham community.
Caesar went back to school
Although she left North Carolina College to follow her calling, she eventually went to school at Sha University, where she graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Marketing.
She got a Lifetime Achievement Award
The Recording Academy honored her with a Lifetime Achievement Award for contributing to the art of recorded music.
Shirley Caesar FAQs
Is Shirley Caeser married?
No, but she was married to Bishop Harold Ivory Williams Sr., Senior Bishop Emeritus of the Mount Calvary Holy Church of America. He died at age 93 on July 4, 2014. The couple had been married for over 30 years
Where is Shirley Caesar now?
Caesar, now 83, has not stopped serving as a pastor at Mount Calvary Word of Faith Church in Durham.
Does she have any children?
Though she does not have any biological children of her own, she has two stepchildren from her late husband.
Shirley Caesar’s birthday dates