Let’s start with a disclaimer from the get-go. Hopefully criticizing being skeptical about a gospel artist, an individual doing the work of God doesn’t diminish my own personal standing with ‘the man upstairs.’ In other words, this God-fearing man doesn’t want to be damned to hell because of his liberal tongue. Yes, mama told me many times that “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” Actually, that wasn’t mom, but rather Thumper from Bambi. But that’s beside the point and there’s no need to keep “beating around the bush.” This is about one of gospel’s preeminent musical forces, the great Pastor Shirley Caesar. And no, I’m not elevating her to tear her down – she’s truly one the most beloved and greatest gospel musicians of all time.
So, why the skepticism from this nitpicky music journalist who seems to have strong opinions about everything? It’s the cover art of Caesar’s latest album, Fill This House – let’s make that clear. After listening to much of the album, there’s no doubt that Shirley Caesar still has tremendous pipes at the ripe young age of 77. If you’ve still “got it” at the age of 77, then there truly must be some favor shining upon you. “Mother Emmanuel” is certain to be a favorite from the album, not to mention her duet with fellow North Carolinian Anthony Hamilton (“It’s Alright, It’s Ok”). But to reiterate, it’s the cover art.
What about the cover art? Has it been mentioned that Shirley Caesar is 77 years old and will turn 78 in October 2016? While Caesar certainly looks stunning to be a woman of her age – again she’s been blessed with favor – there is clearly a BUT. (1) Caesar doesn’t dress like a typical 77-year old woman. Caesar can certainly wear what she’d like to wear, but clearly this cover shoot doesn’t seem representative of many folks in her age group. (2) With most all album covers being touched up, regardless how hot (or not) that the featured musician is, doesn’t it just seem that a lot went into making this cover perfect? Once more, I can’t emphasize the greatness of Pastor Shirley Caesar enough, nor how beautiful she is regardless of age, but for a gospel music album cover from a veteran, doesn’t this seem like a stretch?
So before I’m stoned for dare saying an ill word against someone who’s doing God’s work – again not criticizing that work by any means – here’s both some objective and subjective perspective. Personally, I’d prefer to see something more natural, realistic, and effortless as opposed to something manipulated or overdone. Am I guilty of using filters on Instagram? Yes, I won’t lie, but who doesn’t? In the age of social networking, you want to look perfect for your followers right. In that regard, can you blame Caesar and her team for wanting her to look perfect? No.
That said for a gospel album – a market that clearly only appeals to a certain niche and doesn’t move the album sales like secular music – why is there the need to make someone like Caesar look younger when she’s likely not going to appeal to the younger, urban base who probably aren’t going to buy gospel music or at least traditional gospel music anyways? That was one long sentence, but the question is legit. Why this particular cover art? To play devil’s advocate once more, much like the aforementioned tangent on Instagram filters, this certainly gets folks discussing Caesar if nothing else, which might attract some fans. BUT, this is gospel music, not pop or hip-hop, so…
What are your thoughts? Am I being mean, devilish, and over-critical? Should I repent for this article?
Shirley Caesar • Fill This House • Entertainment One • Release Date: 6.3.16