Walter Hawkins: Goin’ Up Yonder

Family, friends and fans of the gospel music legend will gather this week for a two-day tribute to his life and legacy. Here's why two days is barely enough to memorialize him.

Gospel singer Walter Hawkins performs du
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

When he released his Love Alive album in 1975, the one with his Afro image on the cover that contained the gospel standards ”Changed,” ”I’m Not the Same” and ”Goin’ up Yonder,” there were limited options for listening to the music of Walter Hawkins.

You could buy it on an eight-track tape, tune in to an AM gospel radio station or buy the big wax album and plop it on a turntable.

Today you can download the music of Walter Hawkins on your MP3 player, and even turn it into a ringtone for your cell phone.

His gospel message found its way to secular music stations long before Kirk Franklin or Mary Mary could sing a note.

So much has changed during the 40 years of music and ministry of the famed Grammy Award winner. And Hawkins, a bishop, songwriter and producer who died at the age of 61 on July 11, changed so much for gospel music in that time.

A two-day celebration of his life is set for Tuesday and Wednesday at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre. That may sound like a long tribute to some, but for a man whose music helped a new generation transform from Afro-wearing, fist-waving anger to foot-tapping, hand-waving praise, it is just long enough.

Think about our country in 1969, the year Walter Hawkins, along with his brother, Edwin, and the Edwin Hawkins Singers released ”Oh Happy Day.”

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