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.''
In 1969 we were still saddened by the assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. Yet we saw some glimmers of hope as Shirley Chisholm began serving her first term in Congress and President Richard M. Nixon signed Executive Order 11478, requiring all federal agencies to adopt ''affirmative programs for equal employment opportunity.''
By the time Hawkins released Love Alive 4, more than 20 years later, black America and the rest of the country had experienced significant change but still faced challenges.
In 1990, America wrestled with a rising number of HIV/AIDS cases and struggled to find care and treatment for infected men, women and children. And while some prospered economically, unemployment in the urban areas continued to lag behind other communities That's when Hawkins put these words together in ''Thank You'' on the final cut of the Love Alive 4 CD to sum it up.
Tragedies are common place
All kinds of diseases, people are slipping away
The economy's down, people can't get enough pay.
But as for me, all I can say is,
Thank you Lord for all you've done for me.
Hawkins wrote and produced music for almost every stage of Christian life: tragedy and celebration, victory and defeat.
It was the final stage, however, that he painted so vividly in ''I'm Going Away.''
More than 30 years ago, he anticipated his own final move, in the song that contained these words.
I'm going away, I'm going away.
To a place, prepared just for me.
A special place, I'll live eternally.
No more tears or sorrow over there.
We will live free from every care.
No one knows for certain the outcome of an individual's destiny. But if Walter Hawkins' eternal resting place is based on the impact his music had on the lives of believers, he probably left a message somewhere that contains the words of his 1975 standard, ''Goin' Up Yonder.''
If you want to know, where I'm going. Where I'm going soon.
If anybody asks you, where I'm going. Where I'm going soon.
Tell em for me, I'm going up yonder. Goin' up yonder to be with my Lord.
Denise Stewart is a freelance writer and church-choir member in Alabama.