'Queen Of Gospel' Dead At 81

Tell Me More remembers Grammy-winning singer Albertina Walker, the so-called "Queen of Gospel," who died Friday at age 81. Walker formed her own gospel group, the Caravans, as a young woman and was a protégé of gospel star Mahalia Jackson.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And now for a bit of sad news, is the passing of a woman known by many as the Queen of Gospel. Albertina Walker, she died last week in her home in Chicago. She was 81 years old.

Albertina Walker was born in Chicago in August 1929 and sang with her church's youth choir at an early age. She often cited Mahalia Jackson as an influence and a mentor. And Walker eventually joined several gospel-singing groups, including the Pete Williams Singer and the Robert Anderson Singers. When she turned 22, Walker struck out on her own to form the Caravans choir group. Members included some of the biggest names in gospel: Imez Andrews, Shirley Caesar, James Cleveland, Dorothy Norwood and Delores Washington.

(Soundbite of Albertina Walker singing)

MARTIN: Walker retired the Caravans in the late 1960s and she told people that her mentor, Mahalia Jackson had told her: Girl, you need to go sing by yourself. And in 1975 Walker recorded her first solo project, "Put a Little Love in Your Heart".

(Soundbite of song "Put a Little Love in Your Heart")

Ms. ALBERTINA WALKER (Singer): (Singing) Put a little love in your heart. And the world will be a better place.

Over the course of her career Albertina Walker recorded more than 60 albums including gold-selling hits like, "Please Be Patient with Me", "I Can Go to God in Prayer" and "The Best is yet to Come."

Walker said she enjoys singing and songwriting because of who she was singing and writing about. Walker talked about the joy she received when singing about God to Tony Cox in an interview on NPR in October 2006.

Ms. WALKER: It was all about Him. We came out on the road when we started singing. Our mission was to win souls for Christ. We didn't even have a fee or price in our heads to ask people for. And He blessed us. We did't know anything about being homeless because he provided for us. When you're working for Him and you wait on Him, let Him bless you.

TONY COX: Um Hm.

Ms. WALKER: You don't have to worry about no man blessing you because man will give you a blessing and take it right back but God will give it to you and you'll keep it. Look how long we've been out here.

MARTIN: Albertina Walker is associated with a long list of gospel songs including "Lord Remember Me," "Lord Keep Me Day by Day," and this one, "I'm Still Here."

(Soundbite of song "I'm Still Here")

Ms. WALKER: (singing) But Im still here. Sometimes up and sometimes down.

MARTIN: Albertina Walker had battled respiratory problems for years and spent the last few years of her life on a ventilator. And it's been reported that she had actually been in the hospital since her birthday last August.

Albertina Walker, gospel legend, dead at 81 years old in her hometown of Chicago.

(Soundbite of "I'm Still Here")

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