By Joy Childs
Sentinel Contributing Writer
If asked to name gospel music’s royal families, those who know and love this genre would no doubt name Andrae and Sandra Crouch, the Clark Sisters, the Winans, the Williams Brothers and , of course, the Hawkins Family. As was reported in last week’s edition, gospel Grammy-winning singer, composer and Pastor Walter Hawkins died of pancreatic cancer in Ripon, CA, at the age of 61.
Just ‘Google’ or ‘Tweet’ his name right now, and you’ll immediately be directed to one of countless online tributes to the younger brother of Edwin Hawkins; in 1967, the two famously recorded “Oh Happy Day,” one of the earliest gospel hits to cross over to mainstream .
As can be seen in those online tributes, Walter Hawkins’ sphere of influence ran the gamut from spiritual leaders and gospel greats to “ordinary people.” In L.A., the scope of gospel-loving fans Hawkins touched was wide. On the one hand, there’s Charles E. Blake, Sr., Presiding Bishop of the Church of God in Christ, and pastor of the West Angeles Church of God in Christ, who commented: “Walter Hawkins was one of the most skillful and capable and anointed singers and musicians that I’ve ever met. And also he was preacher of the gospel. And I honor his memory and he’ll be greatly missed.”
Then, there are ‘regular’ folk like Howard Smith, whose views represented those of a lot of Hawkins’ fans: “Although I didn’t know Mr. Hawkins personally, whenever I listen to his music, it made me feel like I have a friend. I will continue to listen to his music for the joy it brings me.”
And then there are those who grew up in music and with Hawkins. Longtime musician and friend of Hawkins’ for 46 years, Luther Allman met him when Hawkins was just 15 years old: “He was a musical genius then. Besides being an awesome singer and a part of the Berkeley (California)-based Ephesians Church of God in Christ youth choir, he probably was the best church organist on the West Coast, other than his brother Daniel. I watched him grow from there and as he became a blessing to millions by his music and ministry.”
Allman, an organist and keyboard enthusiast, added that he played the organ on “Joy Joy,” one of the tunes on the historic 1967 gospel album, “Let Us Go Into The House of the Lord,” which featured “Oh Happy Day” and on which both Walter and Edwin sang.
A star-studded musical celebration will be on Tuesday, July 20 at 7:30 p.m. aptly called “The Man, the Music, the Ministry: A Musical Salute to Bishop Walter Hawkins,” it will be emceed by BeBe Winans, Marvin Winans and Dr. Bobby Jones (with musical directors Edwin Hawkins; Kurt Carr; Donald Lawrence; Richard Smallwood and Rusty Watson) and will feature, among others, Yolanda Adams; Vanessa Bell Armstrong; Kim Burrell; Byron Cage; Karen Clark- Sheard; Daryl Coley; Jonathan Dubose, Jr.; Lynette Hawkins (Hawkins’ sister); Ledisi; Mary Mary; Donnie McClurkin; D.J. Rogers; Melvin and Doug Williams; Ted Winn; and the Love Center Choir.
There will also be a special appearance by Hawkins’ former wife, Tramaine Hawkins.
On Wednesday, July 21 at 11 a.m., Bishop Kenneth Moales will officiate the funeral. Both of the services will be held at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland.
Because of the unparalleled interest in Hawkins, it was decided to distribute free tickets 2000 of them for each event. In less than two hours, the tickets were gone, evidence of the breadth of influence of this great man of the gospel.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Walter Hawkins Memorial Foundation. Cards, letters and donations may be mailed to the Love Center Ministries, 10440 International Blvd., Oakland 94603-3222.