Shirley Ceasar: The World Didn’t Give It, The World Can’t Take It Away

September 19, 2012

Shirley Caesar headlined a “Stop The Killing” concert in Compton on Sept. 7– the 16th anniversary of 2Pac’s shooting. I was there.

Shirley Caesar at the "STOP THE KILLING" Concert Compton, CA September 7, 2012
Shirley Caesar at the “STOP THE KILLING” Concert
Compton, CA – September 7, 2012

The show, a community fundraiser to support local anti-violence organizations, was staged at LA’s one and only BBQ Church (AKA Prayer Assembly Church Of God In Christ), an old Compton chapel on El Segundo Boulevard with a parking lot full of hickory smokers and barbeque cooker barrels.

The concert began with a prayer chanted by a choir, assembled around a casket, and ended with Shirley belting out a collection of hits, including “Strong Man,” He Will Come,” and “You’re Next In Line For A Miracle” over a skintight band steeped in a Leslie-edged Hammond Organ that shook the house.

Shirley was not playing. She put Evil on notice, spelling out exactly how indestructible her God-given joy truly is:

I GOT SOMETHING

THE THIEVES CANNOT STEAL

I GOT SOMETHING

THE ROBBERS CAN’T TAKE AWAY

I GOT SOMETHING

THE POLICEMANS CANNOT ARREST

THIS JOY I HAVE

THE WORLD DIDN’T GIVE IT TO ME

THE WORLD DIDN’T GIVE IT

THE WORLD CAN’T TAKE IT AWAY.

 

The diminutive 73-year-old singer is an artistic giant, our First Lady of Gospel – a mighty orator, writer and composer, poet and philosopher.

The woman is an American original – a National Treasure. Sirius should be forced to designate an entire bandwidth to Shirley. The government needs to name an ocean after her, a mountain range, a slice of North Carolina sky, over her hometown, Raleigh – a swath of starry universe.

Who on earth sings like this?

A canary, a lark, an angel speaking in tongues – a prophet who will not be silenced. Shirley tells it like it is. Whatever subject she decides to talk about. Truth. Honor. Dignity. Racism. Oppression. Drugs plaguing our communities. Gangs and prostitutes. Police brutality. Prison guards. Army recruiters. Bank and Credit Card companies. Shirley is not afraid of evil.

Prepare for battle. Suit up, she says. Put on the Shield of Faith, the Breastplate of Righteousness, the Belt of Truth, the Helmet of Salvation.

Steel yourself. Stand your ground; Make your mind up. Be strong, smart, independent. Keep your head up. Things are going to get brighter.

If you ask me, the government ought to anoint Shirley as a National Treasure – along with dozens of other creative visionaries in America. They are our hope

It is reassuring to know, no matter how ignorant lawmakers behave, no matter what kind of trouble they drag us into, no matter how much they fuck things up, they can never, ever, in any way, diminish the value of this nation’s most precious asset.

American art is the bomb: Shirley Caesar. 2Pac. Ice Cube. David Lynch. Emily Dickinson. James Turrell, Terrence MalickHannah Wilke. Charles Bukowski,  Allen Ruppersberg. And when it comes to music, the U.S. talent roster is like no other. This is one area in which we absolutely excel, where other nations, even those who hate us, stand in awe, with veneration, even envy.

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