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Legendary gospel singer Walter Hawkins dies

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Hawkins was part of collaboration that recorded "Oh Happy Day"
  • Had fought pancreatic cancer
  • Grammy winner's albums sold more than 1 million copies

San Francisco (CNN) -- Walter Hawkins, a Grammy Award-winning gospel singer, composer and pastor, has died of pancreatic cancer, his church said Monday on its website. He was 61.

Born in Oakland, California., Hawkins' musical career began at a young age as a member of the Northern California State Youth Choir. He later helped found The Edwin Hawkins Singers, a collaboration that resulted in the Grammy-winning song "Oh Happy Day," one of the first gospel songs to become popular on mainstream music charts. It was also named one of the Recording Industry Association of America's Songs of the Century.

Hawkins recorded his first solo album, "Do Your Best," in 1972. He later founded the Love Center Church in Oakland, where he created the Love Center Choir.

With the choir he recorded a series of albums, titled "Love Alive," that topped the Billboard Gospel Album charts and sold more than 1 million copies from the 1970s to the 1990s, according to the church's website.

Hawkins was nominated for a total of nine Grammy Awards throughout his career, and won one. He earned three Dove Awards from the Gospel Music Association and was inducted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame. He was also responsible for more than 100 hit gospel songs, according to MTV News.

Members of the gospel community continue to express their grief about Hawkins' death on Twitter.

"Gonna miss my dear friend and mentor Bishop Walter Hawkins ... one of the greatest singer/songwriters gospel will ever experience," award-winning gospel singer and composer Donald Lawrence said.

Singer Greg O'Quin described Hawkins as "truly the most musically inspiring figure in my life ... Bishop Walter Hawkins. Certainly heaven's choir has a major upgrade tonight. Thanks WH."

Hawkins was ordained as a bishop in October of 1992. At the time of his death Sunday he was working on a new "Love Alive" album, scheduled to be released in the fall.

Hawkins is survived by five siblings, two children and two grandchildren.