Chicago Gospel Festival: Hezekiah Walker & the Love Fellowship Choir, Travis Greene, Shirley Ceasar, William Murphy, Brian Courtney Wilson, Great Migration Centennial Mass Choir | Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park | Fairs & Festivals | Chicago Reader

Chicago Gospel Festival: Hezekiah Walker & the Love Fellowship Choir, Travis Greene, Shirley Ceasar, William Murphy, Brian Courtney Wilson, Great Migration Centennial Mass Choir Free All Ages Soundboard Recommended Image

When: Sat., June 4, 4 p.m. 2016

Shirley Caesar’s career is proof that some of the finest classic soul singers can be found in gospel music, the birthplace of soul. The fervor of vintage Caesar tracks like “The Last Days” or the mostly a cappella “Tear Your Kingdom Down” isn’t just equal to that of Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, et cetera, it’s also the source. While she’s occasionally recorded secular songs with inspirational themes, Caesar’s left little doubt about where she stands. “He Heard My Cry” begins with a monologue about “A white man . . . sent from New York City” who offers her “a contract to sing the rock & roll,” which she accepts only on the grounds that she can “Rock for Jesus and roll for God.” Caesar first came to prominence when she joined the Caravans in 1958, cutting such seminal gospel classics as “I Won’t Be Back” and “Walk Around Heaven All Day” (a thinly disguised rewrite of “That Lucky Old Sun”). Her solo career commenced in 1966, and she really hasn’t looked back since, becoming a giant star in the genre. Her brand-new album, Fill This House (Light), manages the nearly impossible task of updating a traditional sound without diluting it. At a Chicago Gospel Music Festival appearance in 1998, she urged the entire crowd at Grant Park to sing along, adding, “This isn’t a rock show!” Gospel Fest has since moved up the street to Millennium Park, and while it’s certainly still not a rock show, if you want to see where some of the finest R&B singers got their licks, look no further.

James Porter

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