Born the youngest of nine children on August 29, 1929 in Chicago, IL, Albertina Walker grew up on the south side and started singing as a child at Westpoint Baptist Church. A lot of great gospel artists used to come to her church: the Roberta Martin Singers, Sadie Durham, and Professor Fyre. She joined gospel groups, beginning with the Pete Williams Singers, the Willie Webb Singers, and the Robert Anderson Singers before forming the Caravans in 1951. The original group also included Ora Lee Hopkins, Elyse Yancey, and Nellie Grace Daniels. Classic recordings for the States label between 1952 and 1954 were "Mary Don't You Weep," "Soldiers in the Army," "The Solid Rock," "The Lord I'll Keep Me Day By Day," "The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power," and "Blessed Assurance." The latter song was redone by Ms. Walker for the soundtrack of Steve Martin's movie Leap of Faith, in which she makes a brief cameo.
The Caravans are heralded as an unparalleled launching pad for future gospel superstars: Shirley Caesar, Inez Andrews, Bessie Griffin, Dorothy Norwood, Cassietta George, and James Cleveland were just a few of the ensemble's alumni who later went on to solo fame. In that tradition, the pioneering gospel singer started The Albertina Walker Foundation for the Creative Arts which provides scholarships to gospel musicians and singers. In 1955, they were signed to Savoy Records. Dance fans should take note that the Caravans, in 1966, included teenager and future disco diva Loleatta Holloway.
By 1956, the Caravans were among the most popular acts on the gospel music circuit due in part to their ethereal, amazing vocal interplay and strong alternating leads. Riding high in 1962, the Caravans signed to pioneering Chicago record label Vee-Jay to record the LP Seek Ye the Lord. Other hit albums with VeeJay include Walk Around Heaven All Day and To Whom Shall I Turn. The Caravans disbanded in the mid-'70s, though there were occassional reunion tours.
The '70s saw Ms. Walker re-signed with Savoy releasing such LPs as Please Be Patient With Me (her first Grammy-nominated album), I Can Go to God In Prayer, Spread the Word, I Wont Last a Day Without You. By the '80s, Ms. Walker had moved to Word/Epic recording Let Jesus Come Into Your Heart, I Will Wait on You, and Joy Will Come In the Morning. By this time, she had been nominated 11 times for the Grammy Award. In 1995, she won a Grammy Award for the Best Traditional Gospel Album, Songs of the Church. Also that year, she recorded an album with Phoebe Snow, Thelma Houston, CeCe Peniston, and Lois Walden as the Sisters of Glory, and released an album called Good News In Hard Times on LLF/Warner Bros. Records. The veteran's warm, venerable vocals graced Thomas A. Dorsey's "Precious Lord" and Dorothy Love Coates' "He's Right on Time." In 1997, she won a Dove Award for Traditional Gospel Album of the Year for the Grammy-nominated album, Let's Go Back - Live in Chicago. Released in summer 1997, I'm Still Here (BMG/Zomba/Verity) was a solid contribution to a catalog that includes over 40 albums. Some of the standout tracks are the title track, "Sanctify Me (I'm Available)," "Lord I Want to Thank You," and a jazzy orchestrated cover of "The Impossible Dream." As the 21st century began, Albertina Walker was guesting on albums by Kurt Carr, the Gospel Music Workshop of America, and the National Baptist Convention. ~ Ed Hogan