Legend, leader, pioneer, bishop, pastor, prophet, psalmist, artist, vocalist, lyricist, mentor, patriarch, loving godfather, family man, friend, confidant, and more may be used to describe the renowned Walter L. Hawkins. Ask anyone that knew him and prepare to listen to a lengthy, verbal biography. Whomever you ask might also tell you that his reach extended across the continents, in places some had never realized. This is perhaps the reason faith communities all over were rocked by the news of his death, July 11th, 2010. That day, most certainly, was a day of mourning.
Tuesday, July 20th, was focused on the late bishop as well, however, the atmospheric tone was quite different. Rather than weeping, crying, and woeful wails, sounds of singing, rejoicing, praise and worship could be heard coming from Oakland’s Paramount theater, as people, from both near and far, gathered together to participate in a musical tribute in honor of the beloved man.
With Hawkins being a person of stellar musical reputation, it was only fitting that an A-list roster of vocalists, artists, and musicians showed up to lend their talents. Multi-stellar award winners, Pastor Marvin L. Winans, brother Bebe, along with television and radio personality Dr. Bobby Jones hosted the event and spoke of the influence and impact that the bishop has had over both them and the gospel music industry itself. Jones states that it was Walter Hawkins (with brother and fellow musician Edwin Hawkins, as well as Pastor Andrae´ Crouch) that influenced him to create a television show that highlighted gospel artists, some thirty years ago.
The concert’s set list was comprised of the late Hawkins’ musical repertoire, spanning almost forty years. The Love Center choir of Hawkins’ own Love Center Ministries (Oakland, CA) provided backgrounds that night on such hits as the up-tempo “I Won’t Be Satisfied”, and “Be Grateful”, led by soul/R&B sensation Ledisi. Other chart-toppers performed included, “Don’t Wait Til’ The Battle Is Over”, led by powerhouse Melonie Daniels, “Until I Found The Lord”, by friend and four-time grammy nominee Vanessa Bell Armstrong, and “He Will Bring You Out”, featuring the incomparable Karen Clark-Sheard. Highlight performances of the evening came from grammy-winning group Mary Mary’s Erica Atkins-Campbell and gospel guitarist Jonathan DuBois Jr. on their unique rendition of “Dear Jesus, I Love You”, DuBois Jr.’s solo of “I’m Going Up Yonder”, and a dance tribute by dancer/choreographer Corey Action and company.
Many (if not the majority) of the night’s performers had close, personal relationships with the bishop, with him being either a mentor, good friend, or both. Singer San Franklin (who lent lead vocals to “He Brought Me From A Mighty Long Way”) talked solemnly about her twenty-year-long friendship with Hawkins, “He was a father figure. I was just here with him celebrating his birthday. Being here tonight for this event is surreal…unimaginable.” She also shares a fond memory, “I remember when we on our way to a revival in Houston, Texas, and we were riding in a limo. I had on high-heeled shoes, and as I was getting out of the car, the heel of one of my shoes got caught. Bishop teased me about it…he was a kidder.” Award-winning vocalist and close friend Daryl Coley, also talked about his experience with being close to the Hawkins, “Bishop was my spiritual father. He licensed and ordained me and was my musical mentor. I am honored to be apart of tonight’s celebration.”
Emotions ran high during the most notable, power-packed performances of “Marvelous”, a collaborative effort by gospel superstars Pastor Donnie McClurkin, Byron Cage, and Ted Wynn, as well as “He’s That Kind Of Friend” and “Changed” performed by none other than vocal royale (and Hawkins former wife) Lady Tramaine Hawkins.
Other performers and notables of the evening include Richard Smallwood, Bishop Carlton Pearson, Kurt Carr, Cathy Taylor-Brown, Melvin Williams, Jesse Jackson, Dwayne Woods, Ernest Pugh, and Richard Gant.
If only one word must be used to describe the night…I would simply suggest…full. The Paramount was full of those who loved and adored Walter Hawkins, whether we identified ourself as family, friend, or admirer. The auditorium was full of the divine melodies and lyric that he created and shared with the entire world, melodies that will forever enrich our lives and instill hope. Our hearts, minds, and spirits were full of various emotions as we reflected on the legacy left by a truly anointed individual that was a prime example of man who lived life through Christ. But most importantly, Bishop Walter Lee Hawkins did more than his part to leave a world and community full…of love.