Shirley Caesar: A Short interview
by Daniel Coston
Shirley Caesar is sitting back in a reclining chair, just a few minutes after delivering the commencement address at Johnson C. Smith’s baccalaureate graduation. Despite giving a rousing sermon that moved both the graduates, and even the University president to dance and shout, she worries that her voice was not up to her own standards. “I had a cold this spring that was hard on me,” she says to a University staffer nearby. “I hope that it was enough.”
After more than 60 years of singing all over the world, and pastoring over her Mount Calvary Word Of Mouth Church in Raleigh, it is still the next speech, and the next message that drives her. “I still want to speak to everyone,” she says when asked why came to Johnson C. Smith. “I wanted to speak to these graduates, provide some help, and say something that will shine a light, and steer them towards what is right.”
It is that willingness to speak of the Gospel that Caesar carries with her everywhere, even to people that may not be prepared for that message. “I was on a plane once,” she remembers, “and I said to a friend of mine, ‘I’m going to witness to whoever sits next to me on this flight’. And the man ended up being Chinese. And I testified to him, and he just looked at me. He didn’t speak english. But that’s okay. There is always someone else to speak to.”
When asked what message that she would want to pass on the graduating students of Johnson C. Smith, and people at large, “Remember that Jesus loves you,” she replies. “I want people to know that they can change the way they think, and use what the Lord has done for you. I tell people to think of themselves as sermons in shoes, spreading the message of Christ, and the Word."