Walter Hawkins, a Grammy-winning gospel singer, composer and pastor, died Sunday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 61.
His brother Edwin a Grammy-winning gospel musician in his own right, told The Associated Press that Walter passed away at his home in Ripon, California, adding that he “suffered bravely but now he will suffer no more, and he will be greatly missed.”
Hawkins was born in Oakland and began singing in gospel choirs as a teenager, along with his brothers. In 1967, as a member of the Edwin Hawkins Singers, he recorded “Oh Happy Day,” which would become one of the first gospel-leaning songs to cross over to the mainstream, winning a Grammy and being named one of the RIAA’s Songs of the Century.
Following the success of “Day,” Hawkins enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied for his divinity degree. While at the university, he also recorded his first solo album, titled Do Your Best, in 1972. The following year, he became a pastor and founded the Love Center Church in Oakland, where he also formed the Love Center Choir.
With the choir, he recorded a successful series of albums called Love Alive, which topped the Billboard Gospel Albums charts from the 1970s until the ’90s. The fourth installment, released in 1990, stayed at #1 for an astonishing 33 consecutive weeks. As a songwriter and composer, Hawkins worked with the likes of Van Morrison and Diahann Carroll and was responsible for more than 100 hit songs on the gospel charts.
Over the course of his career, Hawkins won one Grammy (he was nominated for nine) and three Dove Awards, and he was inducted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame. At the time of his death, he was said to be working on a brand new Love Alive album, due to be released in the fall.