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As the summer approaches and gospel music continues making strides on a much larger stage, the highly anticipated Essence Music Festival is sharing recent plans to honor two of gospel’s biggest stars.

 Grammy Award-winning artist Kirk Franklin and the “First Lady of Gospel” Pastor Shirley Caesar (left) will both be honored and their contributions to the inspirational music that keeps us all going strong will be celebrated in an “All-Star” Tribute featuring another gospel great – Bishop Paul S. Morton, Sr., and his wife, Co-Pastor Debra Morton.

 The live tribute is set to close out this year’s Essence Music Festival weekend (July 2nd – 4th) on a high note by taking a moment to feature Sunday morning praise and worship through a special hybrid of gospel music and words of wisdom. News of the forthcoming special tribute to gospel music follows the addition of Bishop T.D. Jakes to the annual festival’s anticipated lineup of educational and empowerment seminars.

 These two have made their marks on the world of gospel in quite a few ways. To answer the question of why they’re being celebrated this year, maybe their chart history might help. With nine studio albums under his belt, Kirk Franklin is still known as the leader of urban contemporary gospel music. Taking chance after chance with cutting edge gospel that sampled hits from the urban side of the industry, Kirk is a certified “church boy” who has made giant leaps of faith to move gospel beyond the church pulpit and into the clubs and the car washes of our neighborhoods with his non-traditional yet universal songwriting. For over a decade, Kirk gave his best with hits like “Stomp,” “Imagine Me,” the all-star collaboration on “Lean on Me,” and the classic from his debut “He’s Able.” Do you recall the very first time you heard some of those songs?

 Now, Shirley Caesar has been in the game longer than many of us can even remember. With that soulful, gritty style of singing/preaching, Shirley Caesar quickly gained her title as the “First Lady of Gospel” years ago after she told us to ‘hold her mule.’ However, her sound is not as ancient or outdated as one might think. She’s continuously given us songs of faith that encourage the spirit with a message of hope for the last six decades. At age 18, Caesar became an original member of the famed vocal ensemble The Caravans, one of the most popular gospel groups of all time, alongside friends Albertina Walker, Dorothy Norwood, Inez Andrews, Delores Washington and James Cleveland. With over forty albums to her name, eleven Grammy Awards sitting on her shelf and seven Dove Awards to her credit, there’s no denying that Pastor Shirley Caesar has done it all and totally deserves to be honored at the Essence Music Festival this year.

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