The woman who launched the careers of some of the most heralded gospel legends, the original Gospel Caravans–the late Rev. James Cleveland, Shirley Caesar, Inez Andrews and Dorothy Norwood–Albertina Walker died on Thu, Oct. 8 in Chicago, IL. She was 81.
Heralded as the beloved “Queen of Gospel,” Chicagoborn Walker took the advice of her friend Mahalia Jackson and founded the legendary Caravans that evolved into worldwide acclaim in the 1950’s. The evergreen “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep” became one of their greatest hits.
Walker was born in Chicago, Illinois. She began singing in the youth choir at the West Point Baptist Church at an early age, and joined several Gospel groups thereafter, including The Pete Williams Singers and the Robert Anderson Singers. Albertina was greatly influenced by Mahalia Jackson, her friend and confidante. Mahalia Jackson took her on the road when she was just a teenager. “Mahalia used to kid me. She’d say, ‘Girl, you need to go sing by yourself.’ “ recalled Walker in a recent Washington Post Interview. Albertina Walker did just that. In 1951, she formed The Caravans. She was given the title “Queen of Gospel Music” initially by such notables as the late Reverend James Cleveland and Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., for her outstanding achievements within the genre after the death of Mahalia Jackson in 1972.
In early September, this year, rumors of her death were widespread online, but Walker was in fact hospitalized for respiratory distress and later underwent a Tracheotomy surgery that was reportedly successful.
From the ICU at a Chicago hospital, while connected to a ventilator, she assured her fans via Facebook on September 4: “I am still here no matter what you have heard.” On September 17, Walker posted a message on www. albertinawalker.com stating: “I praise God for my life, strength and good reports as I rest comfortably at this time. Keep me lifted in prayer as I know God is not through with me yet.”
Walker’s respiratory ailments were well known within the gospel industry but despite her physical challenges, she remained relatively active as an artist. Due to her love for the music that gave her a name and faith in the God she sang about, she couldn’t be stopped.
She appeared in a wheel chair and assisted with an aspirator at major industry events such as The Stellars and GMWA in recent years and touring with the Caravans for their 2006 reunion recording, “Paved the Way.”
Songs such as “I’ve Got A Feeling Everything Will Be Alright,” “Jesus Will Fix It,” “Please Be Patient With Me,” and “I Can Go To God In Prayer” are all time-tested classics.
In a statement, President Barack Obama recalled Walker’s performances before President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush honored her at the White House for her contributions to Gospel music. “She never forgot to give back, impacting her community through the Albertina Walker Scholarship Fund and many other charitable endeavors,” Obama said.
“Ms. Walker’s voice and message has touched congregations across the nation. Though we have lost an American icon, her influence on gospel music will continue for generations. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and the countless lives she touched,” Obama said.
A concert and memorial service honoring Walker will be held this week in Chicago, IL.