By Lisa Collins, senior editor, www.watchgmctv.com
2010 saw the gospel music industry bidding fond farewells to a few of its biggest names, including the tragic loss of the wife and manager of one of its biggest superstars, Marvin Sapp, the woman hailed as the “Queen of Gospel,” Albertina Walker, and the man who helped contemporize gospel music, Walter Hawkins.
Walter Hawkins was just 19 when in 1968 he and his elder brother Edwin recorded an album at Berkeley’s Ephesians Church of God in Christ to sell locally in the hopes of raising enough money to attend a convention in Washington, D.C. On the album was a single track, "Oh Happy Day," that would forever alter the landscape of gospel music.
Over the next five years, Hawkins would enter the ministry and in 1973 establish the Love Center Church in Oakland. With $1,800 borrowed from his mother-in-law, Hawkins recorded a live album, Going Up Yonder. Released on Light Records, the album charted on Billboard's Gospel Top 40 for three consecutive years, making it one of the decade's best selling gospel albums.
During his four decades in gospel music, the GRAMMY-winning artist released more than 14 albums, including his highly successful Love Alive series which produced a string of number-one hits including “Jesus Christ Is the Way”, “Goin’ Up Yonder,” “Changed” and “He’s That Kind of Friend,” while working with the likes of Van Morrison, Diahann Carroll, Jennifer Holliday, Earth, Wind and Fire, Jeffrey Osborne, Yolanda Adams, Donald Lawrence, Richard Smallwood and former wife, Tramaine Hawkins, with whom he fathered two children.
Of his death, Kirk Franklin would say, “To try to say anything will sound very contrived based on the impact the Hawkins dynasty has had on music, with Walter who was at the head of what we know as gospel music. I learned how to direct a choir by putting on the Love Alive album and practicing his moves while looking in the mirror.”
Hawkins wasn’t the only gospel legend the industry would say goodbye to in 2010. On October 8, Albertina Walker, affectionately dubbed “the queen of gospel” lost her battle with emphysema.
It was in 1951 – at just twenty-two years of age – that Walker organized her famed Caravans, a group that would have an indelible impact on the gospel music scene. The original group the Caravans consisted of Elyse Yancy, Nellie Grace Daniels, and OraLee Hopkins Samson, but one of Walker’s biggest talents was that of discovering and mentoring some of gospel’s biggest stars in very much the same manner as she was mentored by Mahalia Jackson. Through her legendary Caravans, Walker helped to launch the careers of Shirley Caesar, Inez Andrews, Delores Washington, Cassietta George, Evangelist Dorothy Norwood and the "King of Gospel" the Reverend James Cleveland, earning her the title of "Star Maker."
The Caravans went on to achieve great success with hits like "Sweeping Through the City," "Mary Don't You Weep," "Walk Around Heaven," and "Lord Keep Me Day By Day." After a stellar career with the Caravans, the GRAMMY-winning Hall of Famer enjoyed success as a solo artist, with such CDs as Put A Little Love In Your Heart in 1975.
Over the span of her 80 years, she recording 60 albums, including Please Be Patient With Me, I Can Go to God In Prayer, The Best Is Yet to Come and Impossible Dream. In 2002, President Bush honored Walker for her contributions to gospel music at a special ceremony held at the White House in Washington D.C. in recognition of Black Music Month.
Just one week prior to her death, the gospel community was left reeling with the passing of MaLinda Sapp, wife of Marvin Sapp.
MaLinda, 43, died after an 18-month struggle with colon cancer. In addition to being a dedicated wife, mother and co-laborer with her husband at Lighthouse Full Life Center, where she served as administrative pastor, MaLinda managed the professional recording career of her husband.
“It’s in a real man to want to be everything to his wife – to try to fix it. My wife is low-maintenance, so I’ve always been able to fix stuff for her. This I couldn’t fix,” said Marvin Sapp. “I just had to hold her hand and be there when she was having chemotherapy and for the emotional things she was going through.”
Those turning out for her funeral included Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, Kirk Franklin, Israel Houghton, Rance Allen, Darryll Hines, Karen Clark Sheard, Donnie McClurkin, Bishop Paul Morton and Magic Johnson.
Perhaps the biggest shock of all came with the sudden passing of Bishop Kenneth Moales, Sr., presiding prelate of the Pentecostal Church of Jesus Christ and president of the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses (dubbed “the Dorsey Convention”). Known as the Elijah of Gospel Music, Moales took over leadership of the organization in 1993 after the passing of its founder, Thomas Dorsey, and is credited with its resurgence. He was inducted into the International Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Museum for his many years of committed work in Gospel music.
Others who went home to be with the Lord in 2010, include Major Roberson, an original member of the legendary quartet group The Pilgrim Jubilees, and accomplished songwriter whose notable songs include "The Old Ship of Zion" and "The Doors of the Church Are Open," and Geraldine Gay, the last surviving member of the Famous Gay Sisters (Geraldine, Evelyn and Mildred Gay who hit the charts in the 1950s and 1960s with such hits as "God Will Take Care of You").
About the Writer
Lisa Collins, a Los Angeles native and resident, is a syndicated columnist, writer, publisher and former Billboard Magazine columnist. Her career in gospel began in 1988 with her creation of "Inside Gospel," a daily/weekly syndicated radio series that provided news, profiles and product updates relative to the gospel music community. For the next eight years, she would also serve as executive producer of the show that was broadcast in more than 100 markets nationwide. Collins has also served as a segment producer for BET and authored well over 300 articles on a variety of issues for a number of national publications from Essence to Upscale. Her background in the field of entertainment reporting is extensive, featuring cover stories and interviews with the likes of Richard Pryor, Michael Jackson and Prince.