LOS ANGELES — Shirley Caesar used to refuse to infuse contemporary styles with her traditional gospel sound, but now the 11-time Grammy winner and pastor has changed her stance.
Caesar, who is known as the “Queen of Gospel,” is singing to a different tune on her new solo album, “Good God,” released recently. It’s been four years since she dropped an album, giving her time to embrace a new musical approach.
The 74-year-old brought on up-and-comers such as Kurt Carr and James Fortune as producers to weave a modern, radio-friendly style into her sound.
Caesar talks about her resurgence in gospel, how she bounced back after a slumping economy and her thoughts on the direction of gospel music.
Q: You have recorded more than 40 albums and have had a traditional sound on all of them. What compelled you to switch up the vibe on your new album?
A: Songs that made me popular like “Hold My Mule” and “Drive Your Mama Away” — they were good for me in that season. I still sing them today, but that’s not the kind of gospel that radio is pushing now. I had to listen to what’s going on now, and pick up on it.
Q: How were you able to stay current?
A: I finally started to watch what everybody else is doing, what they are playing and not playing. Then I had to try my best to be right down the middle of the road. ... I had to start singing with younger singers, having young producers like Kurt Carr and a writer like James Fortune. Because of it, I’m able to stay current.
Q: You’ve said in the past that you didn’t understand the contemporary gospel style. Since you have worked with newbie gospel artists, what do you think of the genre’s direction now?
A: I think they are awesome. There are more young men singing today. Before, women kind of dominated. Now young men are doing it. I like where it’s going.
Q: The economy was slumping around the time you released “A City Called Heaven” in 2009. How did that affect you?
A: At first, it was hard. No concerts. The offerings at the church dropped, my tithes dropped. Then all of a sudden, God turned things around. He has turned it around. I’m so grateful. I’m getting so many calls now for dates to come and sing. ... And I’m not talking about cheap dates. I’m talking about big dates.
Q: You’ve been more active lately, like with your appearance on BET’s “Celebration of Gospel.” What do you attribute to your resurgence?
A: I believe God has given me another chance. He’s not a God of a second chance, but a God of another chance because I’ve used up my second, third and so forth. ... When a man’s ways pleases God, even his enemy could be at peace with him. Whatever the enemy is, God says he’ll turn it around.
Q: What steps did you take to stay faithful?
A: I had to be obedient, and God knows I’m willing to be a voice in the community. I know that a lot of the older singers like myself won’t be on top forever, so you have to prepare for war in the time of peace.
Q: How long do you think you’ll be performing?
A: I tell the young folk that every time you look over your shoulder, you’re going to see me. I ain’t going nowhere — until the Lord says so.