Pastor Shirley Caesar
by Shirley Caesar
When Michael Jackson asked me to sing with him on an album, a door was again opened for me to share my testimony of the Lord.
The Caesar Singers were invited to sing on the Sunday Night Live television program, along with Take 6 and the Dixie Hummingbirds. That night I remember singing the song “Lord, Let Your Spirit Fall On Me.” The following week a representative from Michael Jackson’s office called my office. She said that Mr. Jackson wanted to meet with me about recording a song with him on an upcoming project.
My manager, Carolyn Sanders, said “Is this a joke?”
“No. This is very, very real. Mr. Jackson would like to meet with Miss Caesar.”
I was scheduled to go to Los Angeles anyway for the Stellar Awards, so I decided to meet with Michael during that time. The meeting was scheduled for 2:30 in the afternoon. I was so excited about meeting Michael Jackson that I left my hotel early and went across the street to the Broadway Mall to kill some time. While browsing there, and carefully monitoring my watch, I suddenly felt a rumbling under my feet. Since I was on the seventh floor of the mall I thought perhaps it was the vibration of the huge trucks passing by. Still very nervous about meeting Michael, I went back to my hotel room and turned on the television. Every channel I tuned in was broadcasting the news of the terrible earthquake of 1989, which had just hit the Oakland-San Francisco Bay area. Immediately, I knew that the rumbling I felt under my feet was the aftershock of the earthquake taking place in Northern California over three hundred and fifty miles away.
I became so engrossed in the newscast that my meeting with Michael Jackson became secondary. I looked at my watch. It was nearing 1:45, so I went downstairs caught a taxi, and went to the studio address his representative had given me.
Arriving thirty minutes early, I went across the street to a doughnut shop and bought two jelly doughnuts and a container of orange juice. I walked back to the studio and was sitting there eating my snack when I noticed on the overhead monitor a long limousine pull up in the back driveway. Approximately ten minutes later, a man came in and told me Mr. Jackson had arrived.
I followed the gentleman into a room off from the studio. As we entered he asked, “Have you thought about how much you want to charge?”
I paused for a second. I hadn’t even thought about money. I told him, “No, I haven’t, I really just want to meet Michael Jackson.”
I wanted to meet him because I admired his talent and versatility. He never sings a song the same way. I was thriller that such a multitalented megastar would even consider asking me to share a song with him. There were just so many positive things about Michael Jackson that I admired, and I wanted to meet him.
A few minutes later Michael Jackson appeared, a long back cane in his hand, a hat on his head, and dark glasses over his eyes. He walked over to me to shake my hand. I smiled at him and shook his head. “Oh no,” I said. “You’ve got to hug me!”
He laughed and opened his arms, and we embraced. I said to him, “You’re going to think this sounds crazy, but I’ve always called you my son.”
He smiled and said, “I love you, and I love your work.”
Of course I appreciated his comments. As we sat down together, his sound engineer began to set up the song that Michael wanted me to consider. I asked Michael how he had heard of me and why he wanted me of all people to sing with him.
“I saw you on Sunday Night Live,” he said, “so I had one of my staff members call you.”
He turned to his soundman. “Man, she’s bad,” he said, “I wouldn’t want to follow her on stage.”
I laughed with him. “No, you’re the bad one,” I said. “You’re just extraordinary.”
We talked about various topics but of course music and singing were at the top of the list. Before either of us realized it, our conversation changed and we began talking about the Lord. I certainly didn’t try to influence the conversation in that direction, but I didn’t hesitate to say something for the Lord while I had the opportunity. Not wanting to sound as thought I was preaching to him, I was very subtle in reminding him of how much the Lord loved him, how the Lord had blessed him, and how he had given him great talents. Michael later told me he appreciated the conversation.
A major manufacturing company (I think it was LA Gear) called the studio during the time of our meeting. Apparently they wanted to continue their discussion of the possibility of Michael endorsing their athletic shoes. The gentleman who greeted me when I arrived walked over to Michael and whispered in his ear that the company was on the telephone. Michael replied, “Take a number. We’ll call them back.”
“How do you handle all the demands on your life?” I asked. “It’s hard for me, so I know it must be even harder for you. There are times when the demands are so over-whelming. How do you handle it?”
He thought for a second, then said “You just say no.”
I never forgot that.
Then he asked me, “What do you do for your hoarseness?”
I said “The main thing is try to get some rest. But that’s not always easy to do. What about you?”
He laughed. “I have a steam cup. I place my head over the cup and inhale the vapors. That sometimes seems to help.”
The studio technicians played the tape of the song Michael wanted me to consider, but it didn’t sound like something I’d sing. The name of it was “Earth,” and it dealt with environment issues. I guess I felt that way because he had only rough taping of the song, but the finished product was awesome.
After listening to the song I said “Am I to sing this along with you?”
He said yes. He wanted me to co-lead it with him.
A few minutes later, Andrae and Sandra Crouch came in and joined the meeting. They were also collaborating with Michael on the project. Andrae and Sandra and I are very good friends, and instantly he began playfully teasing me about my home state and city, saying that “she’s from a little country town in North Carolina.” But Michael rescued me from Andrea’s teasing by saying exemplary things about North Carolina. The more Andrae teased me, the more Michael defended me. The moment Michael said “I remember traveling on the train through North Carlina when I was a little boy”, a vague memory from years ago instantly came to mind. One Sunday morning a group of young male singers traveling through Durham, North Carolina, came to our church. A deacon in our church asked them, “What’s the name of your group?”
The oldest one said, “you mean to tell me you don’t know who we are? We’re the Jackson Five.” So Michael Jackson had actually been to Durham, North Carolina, and worshipped in our church!
I didn’t sing with Michael on that album. His production company was supposed to contact us again, but sadly enough, when the church world heard that I might sing with Michael Jackson, many became very critical and condemning. MY office received an untold number of calls from people denouncing Michael Jackson and saying I shouldn’t participate on any recording with him. A few people even started making jokes about it. My song “Hold My Mule” was very popular at the time, and people started saying “Hold my mule while I sing with Michael Jackson.”
When I heard those ugly and cruel remarks, I withdrew, deciding that even if Michael called again, I wouldn’t be able to participate on the project.
I would have loved to work with Michael Jackson, because I saw in him a part of myself. As children neither of us had really been able to enjoy a normal childhood because we were always traveling and working, Michael even more so than myself. Consequently, I knew firsthand the loneliness and alienation he must have endured growing up. I would have really loved to be a friend to him, but he never called me back. Let the record show, however, that I love Michael Jackson, and I don’t allow anyone to discuss him negatively in my presence.