The legendary gospel singer Albertina Walker died today at the age of 81.

Born in Chicago in 1929, Walker began singing in the choir of West Point Baptist church at the age of 4. Walker was urged to pursue a gospel singing career by the woman who became her mentor, iconic gospel great Mahalia Jackson. Walker launched her official career at age 22, when, urged by Jackson, she formed her group the Caravans. She was a fixture in body and spirit at Chicago’s Gospel Festival since the event’s inception, both solo and with the Caravans.

Walker had been battling emphysema, and died Friday morning in a Chicago hospital, where she had been since late August.
from a 2004 profile of Walker:

Along with stacks of awards and presidential citations, what is most striking about Albertina Walker’s apartment is the abundance of white. The furniture and piano in the gospel legend’s Hyde Park condominium are as pristine as the choir robes she wore when she sang with The Caravans 50 years ago.

Looking down from her high-rise window, she can see Lake Michigan and the South Side neighborhood where she was born. Looking straight out on a bright afternoon, she’s close to the heavenly clouds that she sings about so convincingly.”This is harvest time,” Walker says when asked if she is receiving her earthly rewards for leading one of gospel’s classic ensembles. “We didn’t make the money we were supposed to make, but the Lord has blessed us in our latter years. And look at us — everybody’s fat and fine!”

Nowadays, Walker has reason to be happy. Her 75th birthday is at the end of August, and a celebration at the Apostolic Church of God will include some of the other successful former Caravans, including Inez Andrews and Dorothy Norwood. This event is also promoting The Albertina Walker Scholarship Foundation that assists needy music students.

“Somebody always helps you do whatever you do,” Walker says. “We’re always standing on somebody’s shoulders. So that’s my joy — giving back.”

Growing up on 41st Street, Walker had plenty of shoulders to stand on as the youngest of nine children. While she enjoyed the movie theaters that were flourishing on the South Side, she loved singing at the West Point Baptist Church at East 36th Street and South Cottage Grove Avenue. One big draw was that many legendary voices appeared there, including Roberta Martin and Mahalia Jackson.

“They were very nice to us,” Walker says. “Mahalia used to have us over to her house. She’d always cook for us, and we’d eat and sing and just have a glorious time.”


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