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Walter Hawkins dies in Ripon, California, on 11th July 2010
GOSPEL MUSIC patriarch Walter Hawkins died on Sunday 11th July at his home in Ripon, California. The Grammy Award winning singer, pianist and composer, who pastored Oakland's Love Center Church, died after battling for two years pancreatic cancer. He was 61 years old. Hawkins was born on 18th May 1949 in Oakland. Walter's brother Edwin became an international gospel hitmaker in 1969 when, with the Edwin Hawkins Singers, he had a multi-million selling hit "Oh Happy Day". While Walter Hawkins was studying for his Masters of Divinity degree from the University of California at Berkeley, he recorded his first album, 'Selah' (later re-released as 'Do Your Best').
The following year Hawkins became a pastor and founded the Love Center Church in East Oakland. After forming the Love Center Choir, he recorded their first album as a church family. He used $1,800 he borrowed from his mother-in-law to complete the project. It was the first in a series of LPs named 'Love Alive' and it debuted on Light Records in 1975. The album featured his then-wife, Tramaine, leading "Changed" and "Goin' Up Yonder" which became two of the biggest gospel songs of the decade. A runaway smash, the 'Love Alive' album sold 300,000 copies. The five 'Love Alive' LPs featured hit gospel songs such as "I Love The Lord", "Be Grateful", "I'm Goin' Away", "Thank You, Lord" and "Until, I Found The Lord".
In the '80s, Hawkins recorded a number of solo LPs and produced a number of artists, including Tramaine. Although he had earned nine Grammy Award nominations during his career, Hawkins only won one for his performance on 'The Lord's Prayer' LP in 1980 (he also performed on the televised Grammy Awards ceremony that year). In 1990, Hawkins released 'Love Alive III' which became the biggest seller of the 'Love Alive' album series. The radio favourites were "There's A War Going On", "I Love You, Lord" and "He'll Bring You Out". The LP spent 34 weeks at number one on the Billboard gospel album sales chart during the almost 100 weeks it spent on the survey. The album went on to sell over a million copies. The 1993 'Love Alive IV' also peaked at number one on the album sales chart and spent a year on the survey. In between projects, Hawkins was ordained a Bishop in October 1992.
As elder statesmen in gospel, Hawkins made cameo appearances with acts like The Mississippi Mass Choir who had a hit with him on "Hold On, Soldier" in 1993 and Donald Lawrence & The TriCity Singers with whom he recorded "Seasons" on their 'Go Get Your Life Back' CD in 2002. The 2001 'Love Alive V' CD featured a comeback hit for Hawkins with the ballad "Marvelous". Hawkins' final solo album 'A Song In My Heart' won a Stellar Award for Traditional Gospel Album Of The Year in 2006. He was inducted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame in 2007.
After surgery for pancreatic cancer in late 2008, the Hawkins Family (Walter, Edwin, Tramaine and sister Lynette) staged a successful, multi-city reunion concert tour. At the time of his death, Hawkins was planning a new 'Love Alive' CD concert recording for this autumn.
Hawkins relished being a pastor as much as he enjoyed singing. "Early on I thought my ministry and my music were apart from each other. But now I see they work hand-in-hand," he once said. "I can go a lot of places with my music that I can't go as a pastor and vice versa. The purpose of both is getting the message out to people. I've had some material blessings and it's okay to have them, but to be blessed with peace of mind and joy in your life, that's when you will be truly fulfilled."
Hawkins is survived by his two children, Walter "Jamie" and Trystan Hawkins; daughter-in-law, Myiia Hawkins; two grandchildren Jamie-Daniel and Jahve; a host of nieces and nephews; the Love Center Church family and Choir; and his siblings Carol, Feddie, Edwin, Daniel and Lynette.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.