Farewell to the queen: Reflecting on the late Albertina Walker

The Queen of Gospel, Albertina Walker, personified elegance, grace and gospel music. She took her last bow and now sings in the heavenly choir. Fortunately, during my broadcast career, I was privileged to have many opportunities to interview her over the

The Queen of Gospel, Albertina Walker, personified elegance, grace and gospel music. She took her last bow and now sings in the heavenly choir. Fortunately, during my broadcast career, I was privileged to have many opportunities to interview her over the past 20 years. When most entertainers of such an iconic level are known to be standoffish, many can attest to her humility and down to earth nature. She always made herself accessible.

“My phone number is in the white pages…I want you to reach me and get in touch,” she would say.  

Whenever I was with her or saw her in a crowd, I vividly remember her contagious smile and famous greeting, “I’m still here.”

In one of the many interviews I was privileged to conduct with her, Walker explained that she had “been singing since I was in my mother’s womb. … There’s contemporary and other kinds of music out there…and I like some of it—but you will never hear me sing anything other than gospel music.”

Thank God she never stopped singing, and she even provided a platform for others to sing including Inez Andrews, Cassietta George, Dorothy Norwood, Shirley Ceasar and Rev. James Cleveland. Her passion was so strong that she actually refused to record early on in her career.  “The record label didn’t want to record James (Cleveland) cause’ they said he sounded like a frog. I said it’s not the sound but it’s the anointing. I knew how the Lord used James and the people received him. ‘If you don’t record James—I’m not gonna’ record another record.’ So I didn’t go to the studio.  Until finally the record label came to me and said, ‘Well, it’s against our better judgement…we’ll let him sing.’ So we went in the studio and recorded and the rest is history,” Walker told me previously.

Walker’s presence and passion for gospel music was evident in more than 60 recordings that garnered Stellar and Grammy nominations. She often jokingly called herself the “Susan Lucci” of gospel because she had been nominated more than 10 times for a Grammy and finally receiving the coveted award in 1995 for Best Traditional Gospel Album entitled Songs of the Church.

Cleveland was instrumental in her “queen of gospel” title as was Rev. Jesse Jackson.

“Jesse (Jackson) called me that—James Cleveland called me that and that’s how it started back in the 70s,” Walker recalled. “He insisted on me coming to the gospel music workshop he had started and that’s how he introduced me.”

With all of her fame, Walker always gave credit to those preceding her.

“I don’t care who you are you didn’t start nothing. Somebody was always before you.  I don’t care who you are and how great you are you didn’t make it on your own, you didn’t make it by yourself…somebody laid the foundation. …We  all standing on somebody’s shoulders. I’m standing on the shoulders of Mahalia Jackson, Roberta Martin, Sallie Martin, Professor Fry and they stood on somebody else’s shoulders,” Walker shared during one of the last interviews she had on my radio show. In her honor, may we all remember her words of wisdom, her love for traditional gospel music and the love she had for God and the city of Chicago.

Copyright 2010 Chicago Defender

Effie Rolfe is the religion entertainment columnist. Contact her at effie@theinspirationcafe.com (Defender/Worsom Robinson)

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