A Tribute: Albertina Walker, queen of gospel
Before there was a Queen of Soul or a Queen of Pop - there was the Queen of Gospel Music. The first was Mahalia Jackson. AfterJackson's death it was Albertina Walker, whose soulful voice earned her that title.
But her voice went quiet last week. After struggling with emphysema, Walker died last Friday at the age of 81. If you’ve ever been to Chicago’s long-standing gospel festival, you may have caught Albertina Walker, decked out in her trademark rhinestone glasses. But the Chicago native started her career where most gospel singers do - in church.
She sang in the youth choir at West Point Baptist Church. As a young girl, Walker belonged to the Pete Williams and Robert Anderson Singers. But the biggest influence on the young singer was her friendship with Mahalia Jackson.
Legend has it - Jackson encouraged her protégé to start her own group. And Albertina Walker did just that – in 1951 she founded the Caravans. The group was a springboard for many gospel stars, including Dorothy Norwood, Shirley Caesar, Inez Andrews and Delores Washington. Gospel Radio host Effie Rolfe says Ms. Walker had an ear for talent and once even threatened to walk out on her record company over James Cleveland.
When Walker later went solo, she recorded over sixty albums in a career marked by collaborations with many other artists. She even acted, performing a show-stealing number in Leap of Faith with comedian Steve Martin. In 2001 she was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Rolfe says she’ll be remembered for not just singing but living the message.
Albertina Walker’s generosity will continue to help make music through scholarships offered by her foundation. Tonight a long list of musicians will honor her life and music. Tramaine Hawkins, Harvey Watkins and the Caravans will be among those performing at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago.
Her memorial service will be held Friday at West Point Missionary Baptist Church, where she remained a lifelong member. She will be buried at Oakwood Cemetery. Albertina Walker, the Queen of Gospel, dead at the age of 81.