I grew up in a household where music was not only foundational, but like electricity, food and water, it was ever-present and essential.
The musical palette that I developed is a result of the eclectic genres I was exposed to in my youth.
The sounds that I grew up listening to broadened my horizons allowing for new and unexpected delights.
For example, it took me many years to appreciate the raw emotion and vulnerability of Billie Holiday or to understand what a 16 year old Billy Strayhorn was saying in his haunting ballad “Lush Life.”
Like many of my contemporaries, I “got” Stevie right away and became devoted to him and his female disciples of songs, notably Minnie Riperton, Deniece Williams and Syreeta.
But somehow the music of Walter Hawkins was different.
Walter Hawkins changed the way I heard gospel music.
Despite the fact that gospel was a staple in my childhood, I don’t think I really listened, paid attention or truly comprehended it until I heard the word from Walter Hawkins and the Hawkins family.
I did not realize until very recently that Hawkins was a prolific songwriter and composer. He authored the songs that have left an indelible impression on me -– “Changed,” “I Won’t Be Satisfied, “He’s That Kind of Friend” and “I’m Not the Same.”
To the uninitiated these are merely song titles, but in actuality they are much more than that.
Throughout his career, Hawkins recorded hundreds of songs that charted on Billboard and received numerous accolades, including Grammy, Stellar and Dove Awards.
Walter Hawkins crafted songs that combined simple chord structure, rich gospel gravy and contemporary verve — all infused with love, joy, deep spirituality and optimism.
He did not rely on studio gimmickry. In fact, his most vital and compelling work was recorded live, using vocals, piano, bass, organ, drums, and guitar.
I did not learn that Walter Hawkins had passed away until a week ago. A friend, Bishop Dawn Brown, told me.
Although we never discussed it before, Bishop Brown and I discovered that we shared an appreciation and admiration for Walter Hawkins’ music.
What has since struck me is that while from different backgrounds, upbringings and religious affiliations, many of my friends, peers and colleagues share the same love and respect for the man and his music.
To this day when I hear the infectious opening chords of “Goin Up Yonder,” I get goose bumps. I can’t help but tap my foot, sway me head and sing along with Tramaine.
“Goin Up Yonder” is a nine minute master class in praise and fellowship. It is one of nine songs from arguably one of his best works, “Love Alive,” circa 1975.
The recording captures the essence of Hawkins’ gifts and devotion.
The music sounds as fresh and vital today as it did when it was initially released over thirty years ago.
In his opening remarks for the “Love Alive” recording, Walter Hawkins said,
“I think we should be able to tell everybody, like Paul said, follow me as I follow Christ…that is the kind of life we want to live.”
I took this to mean that we should live a life that is filled with love – love of our fellow man, love of ourselves, love and appreciation of all that we have and should be grateful for.
What a blessing Walter Hawkins was. His gift of song and those he touched will be a lasting testament to love and devotion.
New York Times Obituary, click here