Walter Hawkins Concert and Funeral

Gospel greats genuflect to an East Bay dynasty.


Shouting broke out in the capacity crowd and on stage Tuesday night at the Paramount Theatre following a rousing rendition by Kathy Taylor Brown and the hundred-voice Love Center Choir of the Walter Hawkins composition "Special Gift." Feet moved. Arms flapped. Some shrieked. Others spoke in unknown tongues. The program, in which some of the biggest names in gospel music performed one song after another written over the years by the late bishop of Oakland's Love Center Ministries, was briefly interrupted by the spontaneous display of spiritual ecstasy, but no one seemed to mind. "Bishop Hawkins would have it no other way," concert emcee Dr. Bobby Jones commented after the shouting subsided.

The three-hour concert was a joyous celebration of the life and music of Bishop Hawkins, who died on July 11 at his home in Ripon, California, after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer. The Oakland-born minister and gospel music star was sixty-one.

Thousands had waited in line for hours outside the theater last Thursday, some having camped out over night, for two thousand tickets to the free concert. Distribution began at noon. By 1:30 p.m., all had been given away. Many left disappointed, and by the day of the show, tickets were going for as much four hundred dollars on eBay.

Those lucky enough to get into the Paramount witnessed one of the greatest gospel concerts ever performed in Oakland - or anywhere, for that matter. Among the singers who performed Bishop Hawkins' songs were Karen Clark Sheard, Donnie McClurkin, Melvin Williams, Ledisi, Byron Cage, Vanessa Bell Armstrong, and Bishop Hawkins' older brother Edwin. Marvin Winans and his brother BeBe joined forces with Erica and Tina Campbell of Mary Mary to sing "What Is This." Jonathan DuBose, the Hawkins family's guitarist of choice, offered an instrumental reggae rendition of "Going Up Yonder." Both Yolanda Adams and Daryl Coley were backstage, but were unable to perform because the concert was running behind schedule.

For many, the highlight of the evening was the two songs - "He's That Kind of Friend" and "Changed" - delivered in soaring soprano tones by Bishop Hawkins' former wife Tramaine. Before singing, she addressed their two adult children, Jamie and Tristan: "In case you didn't know it, your dad was a writer for the ages."

More than a hundred sixty preachers from across the country flew in for the concert and for the next day's funeral service, also at the Paramount. They included Reverend Jesse Jackson and Bishop Carlton Pearson, both of whom spoke at the service.

During his eulogy --to the surprise of many in attendance, probably including Jamie Hawkins himself - Bishop Kenneth H. Moales Sr. of Bridgeport, Connecticut, anointed Walter's only son to be his father's successor at Love Center. "You're not ready yet," he said while rubbing oil on Jamie's shaved head. "God will see what you do. All the things you didn't understand is gonna come over ya' now."

Among letters read aloud during the service was one from President Barack Obama. It said in part, "We are constantly reminded of the abiding truth that each of us has the power to create a better world for ourselves and our children when we do God's work here on earth. Bishop Hawkins touched countless lives, and he will be sorely missed by all who knew and loved him."

Portions of Tuesday's concert will be broadcast at 5 p.m. Sunday on the GMC cable network.