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Attendees at Good Friday celebration will ‘render unto Caesar’

25th March 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

“I got to sing, I got to sing,” the always exuberant Shirley Caesar once exclaimed of her ministry at the Mt. Calvary Word of Faith Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. Singing and preaching are all one to the legendary, multiple Grammy-winning vocalist and composer who has been a pastor at the church for over 20 years and headlines the New Orleans Third Annual Good Friday Celebration at the UNO Lakefront Arena.

Caesar, 74, began singing at eight years old and early on was dubbed “Baby Shirley.” As a teenager, she joined the famous Caravans, which, in 1958 included the renowned Albertina Walker and Inez Andrews. Folks took notice of the young woman’s pizzazz and by 1966, she struck out to pursue a solo career and soon recorded her first album.



On stage, Shirley Caesar belies her veteran status and her miles of world-wide travels and remains a gospel dynamo. She’s down to earth in her preaching, telling her message-filled stories that speak to day-to-day troubles and life’s ups and downs as heard on her famous “Don’t Drive Your Mama Away.”

“I just believe in painting a picture,” Caesar explained in a 2005 interview. “I try to minister right down to your level where everybody can understand everything that I’m saying. I try to have diction with conviction. I tell the people sitting out there: “There used to be a time when I would go on stage to sing and I would take off just like a helicopter. But now I have to taxi out to the runway. But I guarantee you we’re going to fly.”

In her career of almost over five decades, Caesar has never sung a secular song. “I’m strictly gospel all the way,” she declared. “I believe that has been one of the blessings of my longevity.”

It’s an all-star bill for the Good Friday, March 29, event that includes some of the most recognized and beloved artists in gospel music today. The distinctive voice of Lee Williams has been leading the Spiritual QC’s since it originated in Tupelo, Mississippi since 1968. The traditional gospel quartet began recording in 1990 with their harmony-filled albums often comprised of material from Williams’ prolific pen.

The very colorful David “Mr. Brown” Mann is also onboard. He really knows how to work a crowd bringing a ton of humor to his gospel message. He’s a riot.

In 2010, the renowned Grammy-winning, Mighty Clouds of Joy, celebrated 50 years in gospel music. Early on, under the direction of legendary founder and lead vocalist Joe Ligon, the Mighty Clouds of Joy added a new modern sound to the gospel community. It stepped away from the quartet style backed by a simple band to embrace the rhythm and blues groove and use of a large ensemble complete with horns and a keyboards. This move made the “Clouds” one of the most popular and commercially successful groups of the era and their reign continues today.

Tickets for the Good Friday Celebration, which begins at 7 pm, are available by calling (504) 280-7222 or through Ticketmaster.

Easter Sunday Gospel Brunch

For decades, this city has enjoyed a reputation for its legendary jazz brunches. The House of Blues, 225 Decatur Street, created the first of its kind gospel brunch. It’s a warm, lively affair with family seating, a complete buffet and omelet station. On Easter Sunday, the show features one of this city’s oldest and most beloved gospel groups, the Zion Harmonizers. The ensemble was founded by Benjamin Maxon with the great Sherman Washington taking over its leadership in 1942. Washington led the group until his death on March 14, 2011. Noted for its traditional gospel quartet style and a cappella singing, today’s Zion Harmonizers carry on the rich heritage that was created by its originators.

These gospel brunches, which begin at 10:30 a.m., are hosted each week by the always smiling, rhythm and blues influenced Jo “Cool” Davis, and the lovely Evangelist Linda Wright. Call the House of Blues at (504) 310-4999 for more information and reservations.

The Ellis Marsalis Center Presents…

The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, located in the midst of the Musicians Village in New Orleans 9th Ward, has begun its first foray into presenting concerts that are open to the public. Last week, the Center’s namesake, jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis, who is hands on in the organization’s educational element, led a quartet to kick-off the four-part series dubbed “The Roots of American Music.”

That Marsalis took the stage to begin the series was natural and one might expect that jazz would be in the forefront of the music presented. But next up on the eclectic schedule is bluesman Little Freddie King, a resident of the Musicians Village who performs in the Center’s state-of-the-art auditorium on Tuesday, March 26. On April 23, the Soul Rebels, whose sousaphonist, Ed Lee also lives in the Village, brass it up. This edition of the series ends on May 7 with a performance by the classical vocal ensemble OperaCreole, which many people might recognize for its outstanding contribution backing vocalist John Boutte at last year’s Jazz Fest.

According to a spokesperson, the mission of the series is not to be genre specific but simply present good music. The very low admission price of $3 was specifically intended to bring in many of the Center’s neighbors from the 9th Ward. The early showtimes of 6:30 p.m. was designed to welcome youngsters, particularly those participating in the Center’s multi-faceted, after school program.

The Center’s first priority were the educational programs —after school and summer—that include instruction in music, dance, computer literacy and audio and lighting technology plus provide help with schoolwork and offer nutritional meals. They began in January 2012. With a successful, full year of programs under their belt, it was determined that it was time to start the Center’s performance stage of the operation. The plan is to eventually present shows once a week at what was jokingly referred to as “Ellis’ Joint.”

This article originally published in the March 25, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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