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Gospel great Walter Hawkins dies at 61

Emma Brown

Walter Hawkins, an ordained bishop and one of gospel music's legendary figures, died July 11 at his home in Ripon, Calif. He had pancreatic cancer.

Bishop Hawkins, the younger of the Hawkins brothers -- Edwin is the elder -- was known as the musical director for his big, talented family.

"I don't think God should have just anything. He requires your best," Bishop Hawkins told The Washington Post's Hamil Harris in 1999. "What I want is for things to be right. Whether it is music, sound or lights, it should be right."

He began performing with his fellow Hawkins, including cousin Shirley Miller and siblings Edwin Hawkins and Lynette Hawkins Stephens, when he was a teenager. In the late 1960s, the family's song "Oh Happy Day" rose to No. 4 on the pop charts in the U.S. and No. 2 in England, making it one of the first crossover gospel hits.

He also performed with his wife, from whom he was divorced, Grammy-award winning diva Tramaine Hawkins.

In the early 1970s, Walter Hawkins studied for a divinity degree at the University of California at Berkeley and founded the Love Center Church in Oakland, Calif., where he served as pastor and formed a choir.

He continued to sing and produce gospel songs, including the "Love Alive" series of albums, which repeatedly topped the Billboard gospel charts. His performance of "The Lord's Prayer" won a Grammy in 1980.

Bishop Hawkins last appeared in Washington in April. Though weakened by his illness, he sang at a performance at the Kennedy Center with a gospel choir and the National Symphony Orchestra.

A full obituary will follow.

By Emma Brown  |  July 12, 2010; 6:01 PM ET
Categories:  Emma Brown , Musicians  | Tags: walter hawkins died, walter hawkins gospel died, walter hawkins obituary, walter hawkins oh happy day  
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when I heard the news my heart fell. Though I don't know him personally I certainly feel as if it is a personal loss. Like countless others I grew up with his music. The Hawkins' have a distinct style and elegance that puts them in a class by themselves. To his family I would like to express that there is an old saying that time heals all wounds, but the truth is that God uses time to heal our wounds. What a wonderful Father He is! My prayers and thoughts are with you. The day will come when there will be no more separation. To echo Mahalia Jackson, "it will be always howdy, howdy and never goodbye". Sincerely submitted, Andrea

Posted by: andrealmajor | July 12, 2010 8:16 PM | Report abuse

I was shocked and saddened by the death of the great Walter Hawkins. He was one of the first gospel artists I became familiar with, with the song "Oh Happy Day" which is a true gospel classic. The Hawkins family are true pioneers of the "cross-over gospel" and their love for God could be felt in every song they sang. My thoughts and prayers are with the Hawkins family tonight! RIP Pastor Hawkins, you made it up yonder!

Posted by: grwall5459 | July 12, 2010 9:09 PM | Report abuse

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