Obama expresses sadness over death of gospel music legend
President Barack Obama expressed sadness recently over the death of a musical legend from Chicago whom the country recognized as the “Queen of Gospel Music.”
In a statement, Obama said the country lost “an American icon” with the passing of Albertina Walker, whom he said “never forgot to give back, impacting her community” by her participation in various charities for Chicago’s south side, the AP reported.
The Grammy-winning singer died at a Chicago hospital from respiratory failure on Friday. She was 81, according to Everyday Christian.
Walker was only four years old when she joined the children’s choir of Chicago’s West Point Baptist Church. As she grew older she became a protégé of Mahalia Jackson, another renowned gospel singer, The New York Times said.
In 1998 Walker told The Washington Post, “I had seen Roberta Martin and Mahalia Jackson. I wanted to stand up before audiences and deliver the message, win souls for Christ. I wanted to touch dying men and slipping women,” The New York Times reported.
At age 22 she joined His Gospel Caravan. The music group struggled for years before their first hit song, “Mary Don’t You Weep,” touring churches around the country and earning relatively little, according to The New York Times.
In 2009 Walker told N’Digo magazine, “We would put five to six dollars in the gas tank, drive all the way to New York or Mississippi. We would pack into one car, nobody had a problem with it either. We would probably make $150 singing, but we would share our rewards and the money would pay a lot of bills back then,” The New York Times reported.
Eventually the group ranked among the country’s most popular gospel acts in the ’50s and ’60s with other hit songs such as “Tell the Angels,” “No Coward Soldier” and “Sweeping Through the City,” Everyday Christian said.
When she became a solo artist, her hits included “Please Be Patient With Me,” and “I’m Still Here.” Walker told N’Digo, “It’s been a wonderful life serving the Lord and His people through song,” The New York Times reported.
According to Everyday Christian her career lasted through six decades and she composed over 100 songs and recorded over 60 albums. Her music has been recorded by greats Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Al Green, among others.
She helped launch the careers of other gospel singers including Loleatta Holloway, Inez Andrews, James Cleveland, Bessie Griffin, Cassietta George, Shirley Caesar, Dorothy Norwood and Delores Washington, Everyday Christian said.
Walker was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2001, and has performed for U.S. presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. In 2002, Bush honored her contributions to gospel music. In 1995, she won a Grammy for Best Traditional Gospel Album. She also won three Dove Awards, Everyday Christian reported.
For those interested in hearing Walker in her prime, the album “The Best of the Caravans” (Savoy) is available. She can also be heard on the CD and DVD compilation “How Sweet It Was: The Sights and Sounds of Gospel’s Golden Age” (Shanachie), which has added the unreleased Caravan song, “The Angels Keep Watching Over Me,” The New York Times reported.