Contralto gospel singer and conductor Albertina Walker, youngest of eight siblings, was born on August 29, 1929, in the Bronzeville community of Chicago, Illinois to Ruben Walker from Bibb County, Georgia, and Camille Coleman Walker from Houston County, Georgia. She began singing with her home church, the West Point Missionary Baptist Church children’s choir in Chicago at the age of four and continued throughout Oakland Grammar School. At 17 while a student at Lucy Flower High School, she was a member of the Pete Williams Singers and toured with the Robert Anderson Singers. Between 1947 and 1949, Walker sang secular songs in Chicago nightclubs but joined the Melody of Zion Gospel Singers in 1949 and remained a gospel singer the rest of her life.
Walker was the protégé of Mahalia Jackson, one of the greatest singers in the history of gospel. In 1952, at the age of 22, Jackson offered advice and encouraged Walker to take over the Robert Anderson Singers and establish it as her ensemble. She did and it became the Caravans with the legendary pianist James Cleveland as accompanist. Walker also signed with Savoy Records in 1957.
Walker married Lesley O. Reynolds on August 20, 1967, and after divorcing, she married Reco Brooks from Memphis, Tennessee 1991. There were no children.
In 1993 Walker performed a concert for former South Africa’s president Nelson Mandela during his visit to the United States. She also organized the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH People’s Choir.
Walker received 12 Grammy nominations for “Best Traditional Gospel Album,” “Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album,” and “Best Soul Gospel Vocal Performance, Female, Male.” However, it was in 1994 at the 37th Annual Grammy Awards that Walker won for “Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album” for Songs of The Church–Live in Memphis. Also in 1994, Chicago honored Walker by renaming a section of Cottage Grove Avenue near 35th Street, the “Albertina Walker and The Caravans Drive.” In addition, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by the Chicago Theological Seminary in 1994.
In 1995, Walker released the album Good News in Hard Times on LLF/Warner Bros. Records. In 2001 Walker was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. And the following year, 2002, she was invited by President George W. Bush to perform at the White House.
Albertina Walker, who released more than 60 albums, died of respiratory complications on October 8, 2010, in Chicago, Illinois. She was 81.