Bishop Walter Hawkins
Bishop Walter Hawkins is free.
A Song in My Heart, his new album, denotes his long prayed-for musical emancipation. Inspired by his undying reverence for God, Hawkins uses all of God’s sonic possibilities, which have been laid at his feet. “This time, with my music, I was trying to figure out what was me, at this late date in my life. I tried to do songs with a timely message. I wanted to do things that would make me stretch. I decided, I am going to sing everything that I love.”
He says of his music laden childhood, “In the Hawkins’ house, my father didn’t go to church, so we listened to a gamut of music; country western, quartets; the Staple Singers, we loved the Staple Singers; Tony Bennett, Barbara Streisand…so in terms of my writing, my history is incorporated in my style of writing.” In staying true to his musical past, Walter Hawkins dexterously uses the up tempo excitement of Latin music, the subtleties of jazz scatting, the splendor of classical string, the wisdom of harmonica, the youthful energy of hip hop and the intensity of dance music, bringing A Song In My Heart to a ground-breaking plateau. A Song In My Heart is a journey to the ultimate place: the freedom to worship without boundaries.
“Elegant,” “stunning,” and a “gift from God” are just a few of the words that describe this most sacred debut of Walter Hawkins, solo artist. With the presence of a choral element as a device to add texture to his songs, but for the first time ever, the legendary voice of Walter Hawkins comes into view as the brilliant counter tenor that he is, awing listeners with the dynamics of his phenomenal, nearly operatic, vocal range and his passionate reverence for the Lord, God.
After 30 years of being recognized by his peers with nominations/wins from the GRAMMY, Dove, GMWA and Stellar awards, he has also worked with a broad range of artists R&B (Jeffrey Osborne), Rock (Van Morrison), Jazz (Lee Oskar) and Dance Music (The late Sylvester) artists. In addition, Hawkins has worked with all of the Gospel greats, including Shirley Miller and Tramaine and Edwin Hawkins. Hawkins name has become synonymous with the consummate behind-the-scenes producer, choir director and consistent featured vocalist.
In 2004, Walter Hawkins has finally heeded the cries of his critics and global fan base to come out from behind the shadows. He says laughing, “In the past, I have been the person who orchestrated and wrote for everybody else: my choir, my family, pretty much my personal performances were just the leftover songs.”
On this electrifying debut, A Song In My Heart, Minister Hawkins in the spirit of his Love Center Ministry, is finally reaching beyond the confines of tradition. He says, “If I am trying to reach outside the four walls of my church and I want someone to listen to it, it needs to have some appeal to whatever heart it is trying to reach. Being contemporary is not a compromise. God’s policy was that `God so loved the world…’ and, the church is not a private social club. The message needs to be stated in a way that speaks to any person. We want to have an outreach.”
And reaching hearts and souls, is exactly what A Song In My Heart does. From the rousing Latin-tinged feel of the title track to the introspective “Ever Loving Father” (Pastor Hawkins’ personal favorite) to the soulful radio-ready “We Sing Praises,” “Faithfully” and “Wanna Say Thank You”, the album is filled with an abundance of strong messages for mankind. Says Bishop Hawkins, “What I do when I write is I don’t know if people are going to like it - I don’t think in terms of ‘let’s make it more palatable’ That is how God gave it to me, so I think, let’s leave it alone.”
Each song is its own inherent blessing with its flawless simplicity and seamless universality that speaks to everyone no matter what their circumstances. “A Prayer Away” is a more traditional song encouraging prayer. “Faithfully” is a standout track espousing God’s “right-on-time” presence. The song is buoyed with a subtle hip-hop sensibility and a harmonica breakdown that makes the song complete. “For Who You Are” is a ballad and testimony to the greatness of God with a stirring choral breakdown of “hallelujahs.” “Give It To Jesus” is a danceable track that suggests that any worries be given to Jesus and He will work it out. “Wanna Say Thank You” is an R&B laced song of thanks. Another standout is close to the Bishop’s heart is the Staple Singers Tribute, aptly named, “Help Me Jesus.” “Agree” asks that the listener simply agree to submit to the presence and power of God with the lingering words:
Get out of his way
He doesn’t need you
to try and do it.
He only needs you to Agree.
Get out of the way
Of his astounding songwriting abilities, Minister Hawkins says he is inspired purely by life’s events, “I am very optimistic. When bad things happen, I think what am I supposed to glean from this situation? I try to find that thing. Music is the most universal communication tool. Someone is always going through the same things that I am. That is pretty much how I write my songs.”
The music and production of A Song in My Heart is beyond compare. Says the Bishop, “I can’t afford with my name to do it in a cheesy way. It’s got to be done right.” With that being said, he approached the best in the business to make his debut the treasure that it is. The proud Hawkins says that working with famed string arranger and composer, Jeremy Lubbock (Barbara Streisand, Joni Mitchell, Celine Dion, BeBe and CeCe Winans, Babyface) was a pure blessing. “We approached Jeremy Lubbock thinking that he would be really too expensive. He actually said, “it would be his delight to work with us - he would match who ever bid the lowest. Jeremy was the highlight of making the album.”
Although purists may yearn for the familiar sounds of the Hawkins’ classic, “Marvelous,” to that the Bishop says, with all due respect, “I didn’t write a “Marvelous,” this time. I didn’t intend to.”
Walter Hawkins, most known for his astounding music career is by no means short on his dedication to The Word. Although he has finally found his own voice with this album, he still speaks with care and a watchful eye to the mild hysteria that is approaching the gospel music industry. As a 30-year old veteran, he offers wisely, “As the music becomes more mainstream, the artist need to question his motives; is it easier to get into gospel music because it is not so overcrowded? Or, is your motive for God’s glory, do what you are doing… but if it is for visibility and cash, go do secular music,” the Bishop suggests.
Bishop Hawkins maintains his humility in the midst of a glorious and ongoing celebrated career. Of his one GRAMMY award win, nine GRAMMY nominations, three Dove Awards several Gospel Music Workshop Of America (GMWA) awards, and numerous Stellar Award nominations and lifetime achievement recognition, he says, ”I am not really sure that the GRAMMY prestige applies to the gospel market. I did have the opportunity to perform at the GRAMMYs, but the Dove and Stellar Award recognition were in the strictly gospel realm. It felt like my home was appreciating me. That felt good.”
Although touted all over the world for his beautiful singing voice, he maintains,
“I don’t think I am an exceptional singer. I am humble because I have to remind myself that there is someone who is better than me and if you can’t think responsibly about what God has given you…There are better singers than me but one has to realize the different dimensions of their gift and settle down when the urge to be envious comes in.”
Bishop Walter Hawkins has a full schedule. He pastors and runs the nearly 2500-member Love Center Ministry, with speaking, singing and guest pastor invitations coming in from all over the world. Now, to add to the schedule, he has this world- changing ministry within the notes of this album that will keep him busy for a long time. In his spare time, of which there is little, he says, “I am 55-years old; I am just getting started! The approach is different. I am doing me now. Me is different than the group, and the choir and it is more of a challenge.”
Living remotely with his two sisters, he says he spends his spare time reading the bible on his 20-acre estate outside of Oakland, California. During his career he has been able to reflect on the many blessings that God has given him and he in turn has given to the world. He says of his fast-paced life, “It has been extremely rewarding to see how much I have blessed people’s lives. Sometimes, I am taxed, tired and overwhelmed…but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
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