Gospel Music Heavyweight Walter Hawkins Dead At 61 The gospel music world is mourning the loss of Walter Hawkins. The legendary singer-songwriter and pastor of Love Center church in Oakland, Calif., died Sunday at age 61 after a long bout with cancer. Vickie Winans remembers Hawkins' widespread impact on contemporary gospel music in an interview.

Gospel Music Heavyweight Walter Hawkins Dead At 61

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MARTIN: Today we remember a gospel legend. If you spent any time near a church, especially I think it's fair to say, a black church, chances are you've heard the music of Walter Hawkins.

(Soundbite of song, "Thank You")

Mr. WALTER HAWKINS (Singer): (Singing) Thank you, lord.

Choir: (Singing) Thank you, lord.

Mr. HAWKINS: Thank you, Lord.

Choir: (Singing) Thank you, lord. Thank you.

Mr. HAWKINS: Thank you, Lord.

Choir: (Singing) Thank you, lord.

Mr. HAWKINS: Thank you, Lord.

Choir: (Singing) Thank you, lord.

MARTIN: That's the Walter Hawkins song, "Thank You," with Yvette Flunder, the Grammy Award-winning singer and pastor from Oakland transformed the world of gospel music and it's considered one of the fathers of contemporary gospel. He died Sunday at the age of 61 after a long fight with cancer.

Joining us now to remember his legacy, is another giant from gospel music, Vickie Winans. Vickie, thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. VICKIE WINANS (Musician): Thanks for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: So let's go back to the beginning. In 1967, he was a member of the Edwin Hawkins Singers. Edwin Hawkins is also Grammy Award-winning singer, is Walter's brother. And together they recorded "Oh, Happy Day," which would become one of those first kind of gospel flavored songs to so-called cross over into the mainstream. Do you have an early memory of Walter Hawkins and the Hawkins Singers?

Ms. WINANS: Girl, I have hundreds. When we were, okay, in 1967, I was 14 years old. Okay, I remember going to every concert that they came to Detroit. They were like superstars back then. It was like the Jacksons were coming to Detroit - the Jacksons of today with Michael they're coming to Detroit back then. We would go to the Ford Auditorium, which is no longer here. I've never missed one. I mean, I remember that back then that Tramaine, Walter Hawkins sitting there with his tuxedo on, sitting on the piano, Edwin, Lynette, the whole Hawkins family would mesmerize us.

This man is talking about a legend. My god. And then I have done I talked to bishop right before I recorded two of his songs, which was "Try Christ" and "I Love You." Those are two of my favorite songs that he has written. And he told me, oh my god, I would be so blessed that you did those songs, and I did those two songs.

MARTIN: Okay, well, let's play a little bit. Let's play a little bit of "I Love You." We just happen to have it. And here it is.

Ms. WINANS: Oh, okay.

MARTIN: And then when we finish playing, I want you to tell us a little bit about what made Walter Hawkins so special as an artist. All right, here you go.

(Soundbite of song, "I Love You")

Ms. WINANS: (Singing) Death could have come during the night and took me away. But because I love you, yes, I do, because I love you...

MARTIN: Now, I could just sit here and listen to that. But we do need to talk a little bit more about Walter Hawkins. What was his gift, Vickie?

Ms. WINANS: Oh my god, what was his gift? His gifts were songwriting. He could sing. He had a range that would just make the back of your the hair stand up on the back of your head and the neck. I mean, he just with his stage persona, he was a master songwriter. The man wrote a hit after hit after hit after hit. And I'm talking about songs that last forever kind of songs.

I mean, I just he had no idea how I adored him. And I believe Edwin had more of an idea. His brother Edwin, has more of an idea because I always was so vocal with Edwin. (unintelligible) I just love you, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. And but I was so sad yesterday, I wept when I got the news of his passing. I just wept. It was just such not a good time for me because he, god knows, he is the epitome of writing gospel music and singing as well. I love Walter Hawkins.

MARTIN: What do you think it is that made his songs, as I said, many of the songs would be people who aren't particularly connected to the world of gospel will recognize, like, "Oh, Happy Day," for example. I think people can just hear it in their minds. They can hear it right now. And I'm just wondering, what is it that you think some songs just kind of move into the broader music world. Do you have any sense of why that is?

Ms. WINANS: Okay, just like trying to explain why Michael Jackson. Okay, I'm very, very serious. You could put on "Billy Jean," "Beat It," anything. You can just go, da, da, da, da, da, da, da. Now, you know when you just do that and you already know who it is, you see him doing it when you write songs that penetrate that deep into somebody's life and change people's lives with great melodic lines and tunes (unintelligible). Sometimes we get away from those melodic lines and melodies that people need to continue to hear that just gets imbedded into your soul and it just hits. (unintelligible) it hits.

I mean, you could feel the (singing) lay down my baby love. You already know who that is. Hits. He was one of them hit makers.

MARTIN: That's it.

Ms. WINANS: So, I mean, that's just that's the way it was. That's the reason why we're on the phone today talking about him because that's the kind of writer he was.

MARTIN: What are you going to think most about him? When you think about Walter Hawkins, what are you going to remember most?

Ms. WINANS: That high range. Oh my god. He had a range, ooh, well he would get a range and I'd be, like, (singing). Is he going to make it? Can he hit them notes? And I'd be, like, how is he doing it? His range in his songs, his singing, his smile, his whole personality. Bishop Walter Hawkins will go down in history as one of the greatest that have ever, ever graced the whole gospel genre (unintelligible).

MARTIN: Well, coming from another gospel, great, that is high praise. Vickie Winans is, as we mentioned, a gospel singer based in Detroit. She joined us to talk about the legendary gospel songwriter and pastor Bishop Walter Hawkins. He died yesterday at the age of 61. Thank you so much, Vickie Winans.

Ms. WINANS: And thank you so much. And to the family, even if I don't know who to call, how to get him, but god knows, I just want them to know that I love them, I wept for him yesterday and I'm teary-eyed right now. I just loved him. It's just like, there's the hole that is going to be there for a minute it's just going to be a void there. I mean, he was just the man.

MARTIN: Thank you so much.

Ms. WINANS: His family, to Lynette and to everybody, Dr. Flunder and to Tramaine, even.

(Soundbite of music)

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