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Walker, Albertina

Albertina Walker

1929–

Gospel singer

Albertina Walker has been a force in traditional gospel music for so long that she is affectionately known as the "Queen of Gospel." The deeply religious singer has spent most of her life praising God with her music, first as a founder and member of the Caravans and later as a stirring solo artist. A star in her own right, Walker also helped to promote the careers of such gospel legends as Inez Andrews, Shirley Caesar, and Dorothy Norwood. Those artists, and others who worked with Walker in the Caravans, have helped to popularize traditional gospel and its Christian message of salvation.

Contemporary gospel groups have incorporated pop music instruments and stylings into their songs, but traditionalists such as Walker rely on piano, tambourine, and the occasional guitar accompaniment—in effect letting the vocal harmony carry the performance. Chicago Tribune arts critic Hoard Reich calls this an "undiluted form of gospel singing" an uncorrupted and "pristine" sound. For Walker, as for many gospel superstars, the message is as important as the delivery. "What's from the heart reaches the heart," Walker explained in the Los Angeles Times, "and if you've got a heart and you listen to what we're doin', you're gonna feel something-white, black, yellow, green, red, it don't make no difference, you're goin' to feel something."

Sang in Church

Albertina Walker still sings with the choir at the church she attended as a child. She was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, one of nine children in a hard-working Baptist family. "I grew up going to church," Walker recalled in the Chicago Tribune. Her mother was a member of the West Point Baptist Church, and Albertina and her sister Rose Marie both sang in the choir there. When Walker was still a little girl, the church's choir director formed a small children's gospel group called the Williams Singers. With this group, and occasionally as a duo, the Walker sisters performed in churches throughout Chicago and the Midwest. Albertina loved the opportunity to sing. She remembers her childhood as very happy, untainted by the scourges of drug abuse or violence that afflict many youngsters today.

The West Point Baptist Church was the site of many rousing gospel concerts during Walker's youth. She was inspired by the performances of great gospel singers such as Sally and Roberta Martin, Mahalia Jackson, and Tommy E. Dorsey, who moved from the blues and jazz into gospel music. When Walker entered her teen years, she began to sing with Willie Webb and Robert Anderson, both musicians with professional groups. A number of their live performances at various Baptist and Pentecostal churches were broadcast on radio, giving Walker an entree into the show business side of gospel music.

Became Driving Force in Gospel Music Industry

Walker made her first recordings as a part of Robert Anderson's ensemble. When Anderson retired, the record producers tried to persuade Walker to make records as a solo artist. Walker simply did not want to sing alone. Instead she approached some of her colleagues in the Robert Anderson group about starting a new ensemble. They agreed, and a key element of their success was added when keyboardist James Cleveland agreed to work with them. "When the producers asked me what to call the group, I thought 'Caravans' would be nice, since we gospel singers were forever traveling on the road," Walker noted in the Chicago Tribune. From the group's founding in 1951 until virtually the end of the 1960s, the Caravans dominated traditional gospel, performing all over America and Europe and in such celebrated theaters as New York's Apollo, Carnegie Hall, and Madison Square Garden. "The Caravans represented a high point in female ensemble singing," claimed Reich. "Here was a group in which every backup singer had the technique and the vocal equipment to stand as a soloist."

The earliest Caravans recordings—including What a Friend We Have in Jesus and Blessed Assurance—feature Walker as lead vocalist. The savvy artist soon stepped aside in favor of some of her Caravan recruits, including the likes of Bessie Griffin, Dorothy Norwood, Inez Andrews, and Imogene Greene. During a 1958 tour of the South, the group attracted a teenager named Shirley Caesar who was invited to join them, first as an opening act and later as the principal vocalist. "The Lord used the Caravans as a bridge to bring me to where I am today and I praise Him for that," Caesar explained in Black Gospel: An Illustrated History. "They were happy days."

The performers inevitably faced their share of trials and troubles, despite the jubilation of their performances. Walker told the Chicago Tribune that their meager pay often bought little more than "sardines and lunch meat and crackers and bread," as well as the gasoline for the next trip out of town. Hotels and restaurants discriminated against them, and in some places they visited even the restrooms were segregated. Nothing destroyed Walker's conviction to deliver God's message through music, however. "We wanted to sing," she said. "It didn't make any difference how we got where we were going, just so we got there."

In Black Gospel, Viv Broughton wrote: "The super-abundance of talent in the Caravans took them into the very front rank of gospel groups in the early sixties but it also generated an impossible pressure within the group itself. Eventually the constraints of the group proved too frustrating." One by one the various vocalists left in order to pursue solo careers, and in 1967 the Caravans disbanded. Walker, "the woman who launched more gospel careers out of one group than anyone else," to quote Broughton, began to perform as a soloist as well. And the "star maker," as she had come to be known, became a star.

At a Glance …

Born in 1929, in Chicago, IL; married Reco Brooks.

Career : Gospel singer, 1939–; Williams Singers, member; Robert Anderson Singers, member; The Caravans, founder, 1951–1966; solo artist, 1967–.

Awards : Chicago, IL, named street "Albertina Walker and The Caravans Drive," 1994; Grammy Award, for Best Traditional Gospel Album, 1995; State of Illinois, resolution to honor her work as a gospel musician, 1999; Gospel Music Association, Gospel Hall of Fame inductee, 2001; Trumpet Award, 2004; National Endowment for the Arts, Heritage Fellowship, 2005; National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, Pioneer in Music Award, 2006.

Addresses: Web—www.albertinawalker.org.

Lasting Love for Gospel

Time did not dim the luster of Walker's voice or clutter the spirit of her message. She continued to be referred to as the "queen of gospel." In 1993 she received her eighth Grammy Award nomination for Albertina Walker Live, and that same year she performed a concert for Nelson Mandela during his visit to the United States. Honor for Walker's lifetime of traditional gospel music came in 1995 when she won her first Grammy Award for Songs of the Church. With her 1997 release of I'm Still Here, Walker celebrated a career of more than six decades, and more than sixty albums. The New York Beacon praised the album for resounding "with both a timeless tradition and a voice as fresh and exhilarating as the day it was first raised in praise and honor to her God." Washington Informer reviewer Brian M. Waltion noted that I'm Still Here is a "testament to the longevity and classic singing style" of Walker. The freshness of Walker's sound could be traced directly to her motivation, her dedication to living what she sang.

From her base in Chicago she was as committed to spreading the gospel through community and political work as she was through her music. Walker told the Chicago Tribune that her Christian faith has provided her with a full and happy life. "All the good things that have happened to me are because of my affiliation with the church," she concluded. "I'd like to encourage young people to stay with the Lord, because if they do, he will surely stay with them." She was active in politics, having worked with the Reverend Jesse Jackson and organizing the Operation PUSH People's Choir. She also founded in 1988 the Albertina Walker Scholarship Foundation, a source of funds for aspiring young gospel singers.

At an age when many retire, Walker had yet to lose her enthusiasm for her singing and continued to appear at gospel festivals and church gatherings around the country. She was a regular feature at the city of Chicago's annual gospel festival, which held several Caravan "reunions" over the years. The singer was also featured in the 1992 film Leap of Faith as a member of a spirited gospel choir, as well as the on Celebration of Gospel during BET's Black History Month annual celebrations. In 2006, Walker reunited with the Caravans to record the album Paved the Way. The album marked the first time in four decades the group recorded new music together.

"Since her first performance in Chicago's West Point Baptist Church, Albertina Walker has lifted the hearts everywhere," President George Bush said while honoring Walker in 2002. And Walker confirmed often over the years that she never tired of it, for she lived what she sang. Walker summed up her approach to gospel music in an interview with the National Endowment for the Arts: "If we would try to live what we sing about rather than just singing it, this would make the world a better place." Walker is trying her hardest to do just that.

Selected discography

Selected albums

Put a Little Love in Your Heart, 1975.
Please Be Patient With Me, Savoy, 1979.
I Can Go to God in Prayer, Savoy, 1981.
Impossible Dream, Savoy, 1984.
The Best Is Yet to Come, Savoy, 1988.
Albertina Walker Live, 1993.
Songs of the Church, Benson Music Group, 1994.
I'm Still Here, Verity, 1997.
Paved the Way, Malaco, 2006.

Sources

Books

Broughton, Viv, Black Gospel: An Illustrated History, Blandford Press, 1985, p. 76-81; 114.

Periodicals

Chicago Tribune, December 19, 1993, p. 6; June 10, 1994, p. 4.

Jet, May 13, 1991, p. 12; May 27, 2006, p. 5.

Los Angeles Times, December 26, 1992, p. 1F.

Michigan Chronicle, August 2-8, 2006, p. D2.

New York Beacon, September 10, 1997, p. 28.

Washington Informer, July 30, 1997, p. 17.

Washington Post, May 8, 1998, p. D1.

On-line

Albertina Walker, www.albertinawalker.org (August 25, 2006).

"NEA National Heritage Fellowships: Albertina Walker," National Endowment for the Arts, www.arts.gov/honors/heritage/Heritage05/Walker.html (August 25, 2006).

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"Walker, Albertina." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Walker, Albertina 1929—

Albertina Walker 1929

Gospel singer

At a Glance

Selected discography

Sources

Albertina Walker has been a force in traditional gospel music for so long that she is affectionately known as the Queen of Gospel. The deeply religious singer has spent most of her life praising God with her music, first as a founder and member of the Caravans and later as a stirring solo artist. A star in her own right, Walker also helped to promote the careers of such gospel legends as Inez Andrews, Shirley Caesar, and Dorothy Norwood. Those artists, and others who worked with Walker in the Caravans, have helped to popularize traditional gospel and its Christian message of salvation.

Contemporary gospel groups have incorporated pop music instruments and stylings into their songs, but traditionalists such as Walker rely on piano, tambourine, and the occasional guitar accompanimentin effect letting the vocal harmony carry the performance. Chicago Tribune arts critic Hoard Reich calls this an undiluted form of gospel singing an uncorrupted and pristine sound. For Walker, as for many gospel superstars, the message is as important as the delivery. Whats from the heart reaches the heart, Walker explained in the Los Angeles Times, and if youve got a heart and you listen to what were doin, youre gonna feel somethingwhite, black, yellow, green, red, it dont make no difference, youre goin to feel something.

Albertina Walker still sings with the choir at the church she attended as a child. She was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, one of nine children in a hard-working Baptist family. I grew up going to church, Walker recalled in the Chicago Tribune. Her mother was a member of the West Point Baptist Church, and Albertina and her sister Rose Marie both sang in the choir there. When Walker was still a little girl, the churchs choir director formed a small childrens gospel group called the Williams Singers. With this group, and occasionally as a duo, the Walker sisters performed in churches throughout Chicago and the Midwest. Albertina loved the opportunity to sing. She remembers her childhood as very happy, untainted by the scourges of drug abuse or violence that afflict many youngsters today.

The West Point Baptist Church was the site of many rousing gospel concerts during Walkers youth. She was inspired by the performances of great gospel singers

At a Glance

Born in 1929 in Chicago, IL. Religion: Baptist.

Gospel singer, 1939. As a child was member of the Williams Singers; as a teen sang with Willie Webb and the Robert Anderson Singers; formed group the Caravans, which included at various times Bessie Griffin, James Cleveland, Inez Andrews, Cassietta George, Dorothy Norwood, Imogene Greene, and Shirley Caesar, 1952; group disbanded, 1967; solo artist, 1967. Appeared in film Leap of Faith, 1992.

Selected awards: Grammy Award nomination, 1993, for Albertina Walker Live.

Addresses: c/o West Point Baptist Church, 3566 Cottage Grove Ave., Chicago, IL. AgentSasha Dalton, 2508 Athens Rd., Olympia Fields, IL 60461.

such as Sally and Roberta Martin, Mahalia Jackson, and Tommy E. Dorsey, who moved from the blues and jazz into gospel music. When Walker entered her teen years, she began to sing with Willie Webb and Robert Anderson, both musicians with professional groups. A number of their live performances at various Baptist and Pentecostal churches were broadcast on radio, giving Walker an entree into the show business side of gospel music.

Walker made her first recordings as a part of Robert Andersons ensemble. When Anderson retired, the record producers tried to persuade Walker to make records as a solo artist. Walker simply did not want to sing alone. Instead she approached some of her colleagues in the Robert Anderson group about starting a new ensemble. They agreed, and a key element of their success was added when keyboardist James Cleveland agreed to work with them. When the producers asked me what to call the group, I thought Caravans would be nice, since we gospel singers were forever traveling on the road, Walker noted in the Chicago Tribune.

From the groups founding in 1952 until virtually the end of the 1960s, the Caravans dominated traditional gospel, performing all over America and Europe and in such celebrated theaters as New Yorks Apollo, Carnegie Hall, and Madison Square Garden. The Caravans represented a high point in female ensemble singing, claimed Reich. Here was a group in which every backup singer had the technique and the vocal equipment to stand as a soloist.

The earliest Caravans recordingsincluding What a Friend We Have in Jesus and Blessed Assurance feature Walker as lead vocalist. The savvy artist soon stepped aside in favor of some of her Caravan recruits, including the likes of Bessie Griffin, Dorothy Norwood, Inez Andrews, and Imogene Greene. During a 1958 tour of the South, the group attracted a teenager named Shirley Caesar who was invited to join them, first as an opening act and later as the principal vocalist. The Lord used the Caravans as a bridge to bring me to where I am today and I praise Him for that, Caesar explained in Black Gospel: An Illustrated History. They were happy days.

The performers inevitably faced their share of trials and troubles, despite the jubilation of their performances. Walker told the Chicago Tribune that their meager pay often bought little more than sardines and lunch meat and crackers and bread, as well as the gasoline for the next trip out of town. Hotels and restaurants discriminated against them, and in some places they visited even the restrooms were segregated. Nothing destroyed Walkers conviction to deliver Gods message through music, however. We wanted to sing,she said. It didnt make any difference how we got where we were going, just so we got there.

In Black Gospel, Viv Broughton wrote: The superabundance of talent in the Caravans took them into the very front rank of gospel groups in the early sixties but it also generated an impossible pressure within the group itself. Eventually the constraints of the group proved too frustrating. One by one the various vocalists left in order to pursue solo careers, and in 1967 the Caravans disbanded. Walker, the woman who launched more gospel careers out of one group than anyone else, to quote Broughton, began to perform as a soloist as well.

Time has not dimmed the luster of Walkers voice or cluttered the spirit of her message. She is often referred to these days as the queen of gospel, and is rivalled for that title mainly by former members of her group. In 1993 she received a Grammy Award nomination for Albertina Walker Live, and that same year she performed a concert for Nelson Mandela during his visit to the United States. From her base in Chicago she has been active in politics, working with the Reverend Jesse Jackson and organizing the Operation PUSH Peoples Choir. She is also the founder of and one of the chief contributors to the Albertina Walker Scholarship Foundation, a source of funds for aspiring young gospel singers.

Every summer the city of Chicago hosts a gospel festival. These sometimes feature Caravan reunions, at which Walker always shines. The singer was also featured in the 1992 film Leap of Faith as member of a spirited gospel choir. Walker, who continues to live in Chicago as her busy schedule allows, told the Chicago Tribune that her Christian faith has provided her with a full and happy life. All the good things that have happened to me are because of my affiliation with the church, she concluded. Id like to encourage young people to stay with the Lord, because if they do, he will surely stay with them.

Selected discography

Albertina Walker Live, 1993.

Sources

Books

Broughton, Viv, Black Gospel: An Illustrated History, Blandford Press, 1985, p. 76-81; 114.

Periodicals

Chicago Tribune, December 19, 1993, p. 6; June 10, 1994, p. 4.

Jet, May 13, 1991, p. 12.

Los Angeles Times, December 26, 1992, p. 1F.

Anne Janette Johnson

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Walker, Albertina 1929—." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Walker, Albertina 1929—." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/walker-albertina-1929

"Walker, Albertina 1929—." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/walker-albertina-1929