Chicago-based radio host and Gospel journeyman Gregory Gay pulls from the fascinating and extensive history of Gospel music to present Take Me Back, a regularly-appearing column on GOSPELflava.com that examines the glory of Gospel music in days gone by.
March 6, 2007
This Take Me Back is brought to you by my favorite soft drink (which shall remain nameless until such time as they decide to give me free pop for life). However, it should be duly noted that you should not drink caffeine-laced pop right before trying to go to sleep. In the words of my father, "Now, let's all say amen."
As I was wide awake, I could hear Walter Hawkins' "Ever Loving Father" from his 2006 Stellar Award winning solo CD, A Song In My Heart. I thought to myself, what a nice song, then again I wouldn’t expect less from Walter Hawkins. It was just hours ago that a musician friend of mine and fellow Walter Hawkins fan told me that he was quite astonished to learn that there was a "new" Walter Hawkins album. I gave him the scoop that this one was on Walter’s new independent label (Coda Records), and that they had just recently secured a distribution deal with Sony Red which will give the project greater visibility in the retail marketplace, and on the internet sites. (GOSPELflava.com has already reviewed the piece, of course.)
I am not alone in my declaration that Walter Hawkins is a gift to the body of Christ: a songwriter and arranger, musician, producer and somebody's "songster" (old folks' word for 'good singer', derived from hanging around people in the COGIC church), with some card-carrying bona fide 'anointment' (interchangeable with 'anointing'!). In my sleep deprivation, I thought I would share some of Walter’s great performances with you.
Where do we begin? I guess with the Edwin Hawkins Singers, where a young Walter got his start at the age of 19. Even then, Walter was singing as if his life depended on it. On the choir's sophomore LP, More Happy Days, Walter interprets his own composition "All You Need (is God on Your Side)" with passion and conviction.
Walter presented The Hawkins Family on the 1977 LP, Jesus Christ Is The Way. While both his sister Lynette and Tramaine held their own on "God Has Signed My Name", "He Brought Me" and "You're Everything To Me", this album would not have been complete without Walter’s vocals on "I Love Jesus More Today" and "Give Us Time". (Everyone pause for a moment and think of Walter’s soaring tenor voice alongside the orchestration; now you know that was good music!!!)
From there we move into the Love Alive years. Walter said in later years as he reflected over his successes with the Love Alive projects, he was so engrossed in writing for everyone else, that his own personal performances consisted of the "leftover songs". Well, Walter, thanks for the leftovers. Gospel music wouldn't be what it is without "Until I Found The Lord" and "I'm Going Away" from Love Alive 2.
Can I put a thumbtack here and direct everyone’s attention to the 1982 movie, Gospel, that was recently released on DVD. Walter gives a rousing rendition of "Until I Found The Lord" here. Even Daryl Coley gets a turn at the mic on "Until I Found The Lord". Now what needs to be re-issued on DVD is the footage that was cut from the movie, the stuff that was repackaged in 1985 and released on video titled Oh Happy Day. At the end of the concert, Walter hands the mic to Twinkie Clark and she reprises Walter's "I'm Going Away" (SING TWINKIE!!!!!) An investment in the Oh Happy Day video will also get you footage of Walter and family singing "What Is This", "Be Grateful" and "Oh Happy Day". This is a must-have video (if for nothing more than to see Walter and Edwin with big hair and Daryl with an afro syou'll be sure to rewind the video over and over again to watch Daryl go in and "dance in the spirit" on "Right On Time"). Next to "Say Amen Somebody", it celebrates and showcases gospel music at its best before the onset of Bobby Jones Gospel.
Love Alive 3 introduced the world to Yvette Flunder and she and Walter give us an unforgettable rendition of "I Love You Lord". This song had such a great impact that it saw daylight again on The Hawkins Family’s New Dawning CD on Bellmark Records, as well as most recently on Ted and Sheri's sophomore offering (with a guest appearance by both Walter and Yvette).
In Walter's downtime (and I use that term loosely), he continued writing and producing for various family members including the likes of Tramaine, Lynette, one of my all time favorite singers Shirley Miller (his cousin), and also The Williams Brothers. Despite a hectic schedule, Walter remained true, delivering memorable moments in song.
From the early days of Walter and Tramaine, I was convinced that Walter and Tramaine were duet partners for life. The duo started singing together in the heyday of The Edwin Hawkins Singers, when Walter and Tramaine sang "Ain't It Like Him" on the He's A Friend of Mine LP. The duets continued with "Keep On Fighting" from The Hawkins Family Live LP, (yeah, it's on there, although most of you were too busy listening to "What Is This".
While we are here let me bring up another Take Me Back did you know this; both Philip Bailey and Maurice White, from Earth Wind and Fire, make appearances on The Hawkins Family Live LP. Phillip was the master of ceremonies for the concert and did a reprise on the end of "Try Christ" and Maurice did a duet with Edwin on "Eternal Life". May I say again, this was really a great album, thanks to reissues and digital remastering, you can experience the joy of it on CD. In turn, Walter and the family would make an appearance on an Earth Wind and Fire 1987 CD, Touch the World, with Walter and Lynette singing the title cut together.
The music and magic of the Walter and Tramaine pairing would continue on the Edwin Hawkins Christmas album from 1985, with the carol "Joy To The World". Walter would also do a noteworthy duet with Lynette on Emmanuel. As the 80's came to a close, we saw the dissolution of Walter and Tramaine’s marriage. I think it affected most of us as if we were part of the family. Who would produce Tramaine now and who would she sing with? Our hearts were comforted when Tramaine and Walter appeared together on Tramaine’s Live album, singing V. Michael McKay's "The Potter's House".
You would think that Walter would have won a Grammy for his Love Alive or Hawkins Family projects. Not so. Walter was awarded a Grammy for his participation on Light Records' compilation, The Lord's Prayer: Teach Us To Pray LP in 1980 that featured yet another Walter and Tramaine duet, "Thy Kingdom Come". Also on this LP were appearances by Andrae Crouch, Cynthia Clawson, Reba Rambo, Donny McGuire and The Archers.
Here’s the list of some of his other great performances:
The world owes a debt of gratitude to Walter Hawkins for the reminder that "The Just Shall Live By Faith". Walter's association with Malaco Records and friendship with Frank Williams led to guest appearances on a couple of Mississippi Mass Choir projects. Walter remained steadfast and true, delivering the goods on their albums with the songs "It Remains To Be Seen", "Hold On Old Soldier" and "Brand New Life".
On to Love Alive V and "Marvelous". It seemed wherever Walter went to sing this song, a mighty praise would ensue. Take his performance on the 2003 Stellar Awards, for instance. Once Walter and Love Center got through, WE WENT IN!!!! The song had the same effect at the actual taping, as well as via the telecast.
Not to be left out is Walter's performance on the reprise of "My Gratitude" and his own interpretation of "Thank You, Lord". (For a Gregory moment, Walter does a nice job with "Thank You Lord" as well as "You Shall Reap" on The Western Michigan Workshop Mass Choir LP issued on Moses Tyson’s World Class Gospel imprint. Walter's composition, "More" first appeared on the Gospel Music Workshop of America LP recorded in Washington, DC in 1991, and Walter and Lynette covered the song again on Love Alive V.
Wait, wait, I cannot stop without mentioning the James Cleveland, We Remember Him tribute CD, where Walter puts his own inimitable touch on "Please Be Patient With Me" (yes, the same song made famous by Albertina Walker). His rendition features a new vamp ("I Shall Come Forth", "I'm Coming Out") and Walter takes it to a new level. Walter and Lynette do a nice job on 'Where Is Your Faith In God" from the 1992 Salute to The Caravans CD on CGI Records. Last, but not least, thank you Donald Lawrence for writing "Seasons" for Walter and I. (Please note, if he is not available to sing it, I am.)
Walter Hawkins' singing makes Gospel music more than just memorable. And just think, the best is yet to come!
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March 6, 2007