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  1. HF Test1036.12:23:21.3791422
Gospel's Walter Hawkins: 'We have lost a legend'
Updated 7/12/2010 8:12 PM ET
Walter Hawkins put a powerful stamp on contemporary gospel music during a career that spanned 40 years. As a singer, songwriter, producer and pastor, he helped bring the music to mainstream audiences and influenced a generation of singers.

Hawkins, 61, died Sunday at his home in Ripon, Calif., after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer. He is survived by five siblings, two children and two grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were pending.

Hawkins left an extensive legacy of songs that included Oh Happy Day (as part of the Edwin Hawkins Singers), and his own Goin' Up Yonder. Reaction to his death was swift and heartfelt.

"When I was a teenager, I never missed a concert," says gospel star Vickie Winans. "Every time the Hawkins Family came to Detroit, I was right there. They were like the Jackson 5 for me. To get to actually know the Hawkins family and share stages with them was the dream of a lifetime. I loved Walter and his music, and he knew that I did. I was such a fan of his writing that I recorded two of his songs, Try Christ and I Love You Lord, on my own CD. They said Michael Jackson was the King of Pop — Walter is like the King of Gospel to me."

Says Richard Smallwood, founder of the Richard Smallwood Singers: "We have lost a legend, one who changed the face of gospel music, the face of church music and whose masterpieces still inspire millions. But more than that, I've lost a dear friend of over 40 years. He is one of the reasons why I am in the music ministry now. Because of his ministry, his music, his inspiration and his friendship, I am the better. I miss him more than I can articulate, but his legacy will live on."

Hawkins started his career singing in older brother Edwin's Northern California State Youth Choir. Their recording of the 18th-century hymn Oh Happy Day became an international hit in 1969 and won a Grammy in 1970. By 1972, Hawkins had earned his divinity degree from the University of California-Berkeley and established the Love Center Church in Oakland.

His third album, Love Alive, firmly established Hawkins as a force in contemporary music. With his then-wife, Tramaine Hawkins, taking the lead, Goin' Up Yonder became one of gospel's most enduring hits. She also appeared with him on the 1980 compilation The Lord's Prayer, which won a Grammy. Over the years, he would release several more hit-laden albums in the Love Alive series and was planning to release another this year. Also among the 116 of his gospel hits were He's That Kind of Friend, Be Grateful, What Is It?, When the Battle Is Over, Thank You and Never Alone.

His music showed the influence of other genres as he infused pop and R&B flavors that made gospel more accessible. His influence can be heard directly and indirectly in the music of such current gospel stars as Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams, John P. Kee, Donnie McClurkin, Kurt Carr and the Williams Brothers.

But he didn't limit his collaborations to gospel. He also worked with the likes of rock star Van Morrison, R&B's Jeffrey Osborne, actress Diahann Carroll and the late disco singer Sylvester.

Posted 7/12/2010 8:44 AM ET
Updated 7/12/2010 8:12 PM ET
Grammy-winning gospel singer and pastor Walter Hawkins lost his battle with pancreatic cancer at the age of 61.
Gospo Centric
Grammy-winning gospel singer and pastor Walter Hawkins lost his battle with pancreatic cancer at the age of 61.