Walter Hawkins: "Early on I thought my ministry and my music were apart from each other. But now I see they work hand-in-hand.”

Blessed With Peace Of Mind And Joy In His Life

Walter Hawkins
May 18, 1949-July 11, 2010

Walter Hawkins, the Grammy Award-winning gospel singer/composer and pastor of Oakland's Love Center Church, died July 11 at his home in Ripon. For the last two years, Hawkins has been battling pancreatic cancer. He was 61 years old. During the 1970s, Hawkins personified a new wave of gospel artists, as exemplified by his brother Edwin Hawkins of "Oh Happy Day" fame, and Andrae Crouch, who brought a youthful contemporary vibe to gospel music. Hawkins cut a series of best-selling Love Alive LPs that remain gospel classics to this day. Hawkins' songs have been recorded by a who's who in music ranging from Aretha Franklin and American Idol champ Ruben Studdard to Vickie Winans and M.C. Hammer.

"The impact that Walter Hawkins had on gospel music was so profound and far-reaching that it is now, and forever shall be, part of gospel's DNA," says gospel music historian, Bob Marovich, who edits The Black Gospel Blog.

Upon hearing of Bishop Hawkins’s death, Congresswoman and Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) extolled him as “one of the most beloved figures in contemporary gospel music and he will be greatly missed. I wish to express my sincere condolences to Bishop Hawkins’ brother, Walter, his children and his grandchildren. May Bishop Hawkins family find comfort in their deep and abiding faith during this time of loss.

“Bishop Hawkins’ ministry in Oakland enriched and touched the lives of many residents throughout the 9th Congressional District.

“Personally, Bishop Hawkins was a close friend. One of the great joys came when Bishop Hawkins accepted my invitation a few years ago to perform at the prayer breakfast during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference. We all sat transfixed as Bishop Hawkins moved us by performing old gospel classics. It is a memory that I will forever cherish.” (

Hawkins was born May 18, 1949 in Oakland, CA. Reared in the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) denomination, Hawkins became a master pianist as well as a dynamic singer with an operatic vocal range. His brother, Edwin, had already made a name for himself in 1969 when "Oh Happy Day" became an international hit.

While studying for his master's of divinity degree from the University of California at Berkeley, Hawkins recorded his first LP, Do Your Best, in 1972. An October 1972 Billboard magazine reviewer wrote, "Walter Hawkins is a pianist of enviable accomplishments while his vocal prowess is in no way disputable. He's gathered around him an exceptional crew of sidemen and vocalists and the total effect is completely invigorating."

Walter Hawkins and the Clark Sisters perform ‘I’m Going Away’ in Gospel: The Movie

The following year, Hawkins became a pastor and founded the Love Center Church in East Oakland. After forming the Love Center Choir, he recorded their first album as a church family. He used $1,800 he borrowed from his mother-in-law to complete the project. It was the first in a series of LPs named Love Alive and it debuted on Light Records in 1975.

The album featured his then-wife, Tramaine, leading "Changed" and "Goin' Up Yonder," which became two of the biggest gospel songs of the decade. A runaway smash, the Love Alive album sold a staggering 300,000 copies. The five Love Alive LPs featured classic gospel songs such as "I Love the Lord," "Be Grateful," "I'm Goin' Away," "Thank You, Lord" and "Until, I Found the Lord."

In the `80s, Hawkins recorded a number of solo LPs and produced a number of artists, including Tramaine. Although, he had earned nine Grammy Award nominations during his career, Hawkins only won one for his performance on The Lord's Prayer LP in 1980 (he also performed on the televised Grammy Awards ceremony that year). In 1990, Hawkins released Love Alive III, which became the biggest seller of the Love Alive album series. The radio favorites were "There's A War Going On,” " I Love You, Lord" and "He'll Bring You Out." The LP spent 34 weeks at #1 on the Billboard gospel album sales chart during the almost 100 weeks it spent on the survey. The album went on to sell over a million copies. The 1993 Love Alive IV also peaked at #1 on the album sales chart and spent a year on the survey. In between projects, Hawkins was ordained a Bishop in October 1992.

As elder statesmen in gospel, Hawkins became a favorite for cameo appearances in recent years. The Mississippi Mass Choir had a hit with him on "Hold, On, Soldier" in 1993 and Donald Lawrence & the TriCity Singers watched him steal the show on "Seasons" from their Go Get Your Life Back CD in 2002. The 2001 Love Alive V CD featured a huge comeback hit for Hawkins with the ballad, "Marvelous." Hawkins' final solo CD, A Song in My Heart, won a Stellar Award for Traditional Gospel Album of the Year in 2006. He was inducted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame in 2007.

Walter Hawkins leads an intense performance of his gospel classic, ‘Thank You, Lord,’ from his Love Alive IV album

After surgery for pancreatic cancer in late 2008, the Hawkins family (Walter, Edwin, Tramaine, and sister, Lynette) staged a successful, multi-city Hawkins Family reunion concert tour.

Hawkins relished being a pastor as much as he enjoyed singing. "Early on I thought my ministry and my music were apart from each other. But now I see they work hand-in-hand," he once said. "I can go a lot of places with my music that I can't go as a pastor and vice versa.

“The purpose of both is getting the message out to people. I've had some material blessings and it's okay to have them, but to be blessed with peace of mind and joy in your life, that's when you will be truly fulfilled."

Hawkins is survived by his two children, Walter "Jamie" and Trystan Hawkins; daughter-in-law, Myiia Hawkins; two grandchildren Jamie-Daniel and Jahve; a host of nieces and nephews; the Love Center Church family and Choir; and his siblings Carol, Feddie, Edwin, Daniel, and Lynette.
(Posted at, July 15, 2010,


Matt Felts Joins Perfect Heart

matt-feltsOne of Southern Gospel’s legendary groups, Perfect Heart, returned to the road this year to great acclaim and a warm outpouring of affection from fans who had been with it since its ‘90s heyday and new gospel fans only now discovering the quartet. The latest news from Perfect Heart is that Matt Felts, a gospel stalwart who has made a name for himself as one of the genre’s top tenors during his time with the Skyline Boys, Cross 4 Crowns and the Monument Quartet, is now in the Perfect Heart lineup.

Perfect Heart’s legendary bass singer Mike Presnell praised Felt’s accomplishments but said the more important point in deciding to invite him into the Perfect Heart fold is that “his deep desire to see God’s kingdom grow line up perfectly with our group’s main goal.”

“It is an incredible honor to join a legendary group like Perfect Heart. They were the very first live concert I ever attended and I’ve always been a fan of Mike’s,” Felt said in a statement posted on the Perfect Heart website. “Though they have a rich tradition, I am more excited about all that God has in store for us. There are so many great things coming and I can’t wait to see the fans of this group as I hit the road with them.”

Early Perfect Heart, performing ‘In The Sweet Forever’

For more information, visit the Perfect Heart website at



Removing Burdens, Destroying Yolks
By Bob Marovich of The Black Gospel Blog

ami-rushesAmi Rushes
Ami Rushes Ministries 2010

On her latest project, Testify, Ami Rushes sets out to “remove burdens and destroy yolks”—those of her listeners as well as her own—through the cathartic and redemptive power of music.

The title, however, could just as easily apply to the Rev. James Cleveland protégé’s continued support of traditional gospel as the cure for what ails you.

As she has done time and again throughout her solo career, Rushes gives props to the legends by covering the classics on Testify. “Let’s go back to 1960,” Rushes announces at the start of Sidney Hason’s “There is Nothing Too Hard for God.” The organ chirps perfunctorily and a perky, handclap beat introduces a 1960s-era garage band-style workout.

Teaming up with her longtime friend and producer Kurt Carr, Rushes turns Testify into her best work yet. Much of the album has a high-spirited, celebratory, praise party feeling. For example, on “Didn’t It Rain,” a spiritual gospelized by Roberta Martin, Rushes serves as impassioned narrator and lead singer as the background vocalists chant with the precision of a Broadway chorus and Rick Watford delivers some saucy quartet-style guitar licks. “Determination” is a straight-ahead church wrecker, and on the title track, written by the late Reverend Timothy Wright, the entire company demonstrates some choral aerobics, including chiming harmonies.

Timothy Wright’s spirit hovers palpably over Testify, most poignantly in the closing medley, when Rushes reprises his hit, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” as a way to relieve the dramatic tension of a solemn, prayerful reading of Andrae Crouch’s “Always Remember.”

Ami Rushes is a saved and sanctified power rocker whose soulful, rock-hewn voice can just a easily tear into a song as deliver a tender, emotional ballad with lullabye-like calm.


bob-marovichBob Marovich is a Gospel music historian and writer, record collector and, since May 2001, host of WLUW's "Gospel Memories.” Bob is at work on a comprehensive history of the first fifty years of gospel music in Chicago. Launched July 28, 2004, his Black Gospel Blog is the definitive blog on black gospel music.

Ami Rushes’s Testify is available at Ami Rushes Ministries


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