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Albertina Walker

Aug. 29, 1929 - Oct. 8, 2010

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Albertina Walker began singing in her Chicago church when she was 4 and went on to become a gospel music star. Her philanthropy included establishing a scholarship foundation for the arts, and she said, “You've got to stay humble so the Lord can use you.” Arlington, Virginia, 2005, photograph by Alan Govenar
Albertina Walker, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Albertina Walker, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Albertina Walker, 2005 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, photograph by Michael G. Stewart, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Albertina Walker, 2005 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, photograph by Michael G. Stewart, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Albertina Walker, 2005 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, photograph by Michael G. Stewart, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Albertina Walker was literally born into gospel music. “I was born and raised at West Point Baptist Church in Chicago, where Reverend Bernard Jakes is the pastor,” she told NEA interviewer Mary Eckstein. “I grew up right there in that church. My mother left the church with me in her and brought me with her when she came back, so I've been in church all my life. My mother used to sing in the church, so whatever talent I had, I got because my mother did it. It just came on into me. Different singers used to come to our church, like Mahalia Jackson, Roberta Martin, Professor [Theodore] Frye, Thomas A. Dorsey. I'd sit and listen to them sing, and I just knew that was what I wanted to do.”

Walker began singing in church when she was 4. Soon she was performing with the Pete Williams Singers, which consisted of members of her church. With Mahalia Jackson’s encouragement, Walker resolved to pursue a musical career and, at age 22, organized the Caravans, bringing with her several members of the Robert Anderson Singers, including Ora Lee Hopkins, Elyse Yancey and Nellie Grace Daniels. The popular group featured, at various times, James Cleveland, Bessie Griffin, Shirley Caesar, Dorothy Norwood, Inez Andrews, Loleatta Holloway and Cassietta George. Caesar left to begin her solo ministry in 1965, and the group soon disbanded. It delivered a powerful reunion performance at the 2000 Chicago Gospel Festival.

Walker’s solo career produced more than sixty albums. She often recorded with large church choirs, including her own church’s West Point Choir. She garnered several Grammy nominations and in the mid-1990s won the Grammy for best traditional soul gospel for Songs of the Church: Live in Memphis on Verity.

Walker sang for President Bill Clinton and South African President Nelson Mandela and appeared on television, in the Steve Martin film Leap of Faith and in off-Broadway shows. Her philanthropic works included her own scholarship foundation for the arts. “Just because you do a record or somebody tells you you can sing, you can’t let it go to your head,” Walker said. “You’ve got to stay humble so the Lord can use you.”

Bibliography
Hoekstra, Dave. “Albertina Walker Defines Gospel for Generations.” Chicago Sun Times (June 1994).
_____. “A Closer Walk with Walker.” Chicago Sun Times (January 1998).
_____. “The Faithful Climb Aboard for Moving Caravans Finale.” Chicago Sun Times (February 1994).
O’Donnell, Maureen. “Walker Reigns Over Gospel Festival Opening.” Chicago Sun Times (June 1994).
Van Gelder, Lawrence. “Arts, Briefly: National Endowment Honors.” The New York Times (June 2005).

Discography
Walker, Albertina. Songs of the Church; Live in Memphis. Verity 01241-43061-2.
_____. He Keeps on Blessing Me. Verity 01241-43059-4.
_____. I’m Still Here. Verity 01241-43096-2. _____. Let’s Go Back: Live in Chicago. Benson CD04234.
_____. The Best of Albertina Walker. Verity 01241-43179-2.

Watch

Albertina Walker interviewed by Nicholas R. Spitzer, 2005 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Albertina Walker, 2005 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts


Albertina Walker from Queen of Gospel, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Listen

Albertina Walker performs an example of Dr. Isaac Watts style praise and worship singing, Arlington, Virginia, 2005, recorded by Alan Govenar

Albertina Walker answers the question 'When did you release your first record?' Arlington, Virginia, 2005, interview by Alan Govenar

Albertina Walker answers the question 'How important is gospel music?' Arlington, Virginia, 2005, interview by Alan Govenar

Albertina Walker answers the question 'Will you always perform gospel music?' Arlington, Virginia, 2005, Interview by Alan Govenar

Albertina Walker answers the question 'Did you spend a lot of time traveling with your music?' Arlington, Virginia, 2005, interview by Alan Govenar

Albertina Walker performs the gospel hymn 'I'm still here,' Arlington, Virginia, 2005, recorded by Alan Govenar

Albertina Walker answers the question 'How did you pick the material you recorded and performed?' Arlington, Virginia, 2005, interview by Alan Govenar

Albertina Walker, 'Oh Lord Remember Me,' Songs of the Church: Live in Memphis, 1997, Verity 01241-43061-2

Albertina Walker, 'In the Garden,' Songs of the Church: Live in Memphis, 1994, Verity 01241-43061-2

Albertina Walker, 'Where Could I Go?' Songs of the Church: Live in Memphis, 1994, Verity 01241-43061-2

Albertina Walker, 'When God Dips His Love In My Heart,' The Best of Albertina Walker, 2001, Verity 01241-43179-2