The younger brother of gospel vocalist and choir director Edwin Hawkins, Bishop Walter Hawkins was one of gospel's most successful performers. The leader of the Love Center Choir, Hawkins led the group to two Dove Awards, presented by the Gospel Music Association, and multiple Grammy nominations. The group's debut album, Going Up Yonder, released in 1975, spent several months on the Top 40 gospel chart compiled by Billboard. Their second album, Love Alive II, sold nearly 300,000 copies. This was surpassed by their third album, Love Alive III, which topped the million sales mark. They continued this success with Love Alive IV, released in 1989, which remained in the top position on the gospel charts for 39 weeks.
Hawkins gave very little thought to a career in music until 1968. In an attempt to raise money to send the Ephesian Church of God in Christ's youth choir, directed by Edwin Hawkins, to a convention in Washington, D.C., Hawkins helped the group record an album, Let Us Go into the House of the Lord. Although initial plans called for the album to be sold locally, it became an international success when a single, "Oh Happy Day," sold more than a million copies. The group subsequently toured as the Edwin Hawkins Singers.
In the early '70s, Walter Hawkins left the group to pursue a career on his own. After earning a Master of Divinity degree from the University of California in Berkeley, he founded the Love Center Church in Oakland. Two years later, he returned to the Ephesian Church of God in Christ to record an album, Going Up Yonder, with the Love Center Choir. In addition to continuing to work with the Love Center Choir, Hawkins periodically collaborated with his brother and other family members. While he joined his brother to record an album with the Oakland Symphony, he wrote and produced an album, Baby Sis, for his youngest sister, Lynette, in 1985. The same year, he wrote and produced one tune, "Everybody Ought to Know," on The Search Is Over, the debut solo studio album by his wife, Tramaine Hawkins. In 1988, he joined with the Hawkins Family to record the album Special Gift. Three years later, he co-produced and served as musical director and arranger for a Grammy-winning album, Tramaine Live, by his now ex-wife.
Hawkins worked with other artists as well. Together with the Love Center Choir, he performed on albums by Van Morrison and Lee Oskar. On his own, he worked with Diahann Carroll, Sylvester, and Jeffrey Osborne. In 1985, Hawkins wrote and produced three songs for the Williams Brothers' album Hand in Hand. During the 1990s, Hawkins was back leading the Love Center Choir on the Grammy-nominated Love Alive V: 25th Anniversary Reunion, released in 1998. His catalog was revitalized in the new millennium, with a number of reissues and an all-new recording, the Stellar Award-winning Song in My Heart, in 2005. Hawkins underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer in 2008, but was well enough to join a subsequent Hawkins Family reunion concert tour. A sixth Love Alive recording was being planned for fall 2010 when Walter Hawkins succumbed to the pancreatic cancer at his home in Ripon, CA on July 11 of that year, at the age of 61. ~ Craig Harris