Before the movie appearances and television performances, contributions to charities and her crowning as the “Queen of Gospel,” Albertina Walker was just a four-year-old girl singing in the church choir.
Walker, one of gospel’s most renowned artists, sang in the children’s choir at West Point Baptist Church on Chicago’s South Side. Even at that age, she showed a level of personality and passion that led some in the church to wonder if Walker had it within herself to follow in the footsteps of some of her gospel idols like Thomas A. Dorsey and Mahalia Jackson. By age 22, she had begun to cement her legacy.
Walker still attends West Point Baptist Church at 3556 S Cottage Grove Ave. Singing in the choir awakened her desire to sing professionally, she says in recent interview with the Austin Weekly News.
“I just thank God that I’ve had the opportunity to have the type of career that I’ve had and that the Lord has allowed me to continue to sing despite the ups-and-downs of the past 76 years,” says Walker. “I am very grateful.”
Among Walker’s numerous accomplishments is her recent honor as the recipient of the 2005 National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellowship in September. This award is the highest honor given by the government to any artist in the folk and traditional arts. Ms. Walker received a plaque and a $20,000 fellowship honoring her accomplishments.
The award was presented in a ceremony on Capitol Hill. The reception culminated with a concert at George Washington University. Inez Andrews, Dorothy Norwood and Delores Washington, members of the Caravans, joined her, a gospel group Walker formed in 1951.
She and the other members of the group are currently recording a reunion album due out in 2006.
“I’m working with Dorothy Norwood, Inez Andrews and Delores Washington to record a new record to be released next year,” Walker says. “It’s still untitled but we are considering naming the album ‘Pave the way.'”
When one looks back on Walker’s accomplishments they would be hard pressed to find a better title.
The group helped launch the careers of Pastor Shirley Cesar, Andrews, Washington, Cassietta George, Evangelist Dorothy Norwood and the Rev. James Cleveland.
The Caravans discography reads almost like a “best-of” contemporary gospel music, with hits such as “Sweeping Through The City,” “Mary Don’t You Weep,” “Walk Around Heaven,” and “Lord Keep Me Day By Day.”
Following her successful stint with the Caravans, Walker went on to recording more than 60 albums as a solo artist, including the, “The Best is Yet to Come,” “I Can go to God in Prayer,” and her 1975 solo debut “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.”
She has been nominated for 10 Grammies, and numerous Gospel Music Workshop of America Excellence Awards.
Walker’s accomplishments have garnered her legendary status. One may even consider ‘old school’. She points out that the influx of younger ministers and evolving culture has changed the traditional look of the church, which has been greatly compromised within the last generation in her eyes.
“Fifty years ago the attire was different, ladies had to keep their legs and arms covered, and people knew they had to wear their Sunday clothes, specifically clothes that are dressy,” she says, “now people will attend church in jeans and a halter top. It’s a completely different attitude than what I’m used to.”
“However, maybe that’s how things evolve and change with the times,” she added. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
Of today’s gospel artists, Walker does see a few capable of carrying the torch and keeping the music at the forefront of the Black consciousness movement.
“I like Donald Lawrence and Walter Hawkins,” says Walker. “They are extraordinary singers and their sound is very faithful to the traditional gospel sound, which I enjoy. There will always be artists like Kirk Franklin who will experiment with
incorporating other elements in Gospel, but the traditional sound will always be around because of its potency.”