Remembering Albertina Walker

My childhood list of Very Important People was fairly unorthodox, ideologically inconsistent, and tilted toward athletes from the Pacific Northwest. It included Portland Trailblazer center Bill Walton, Seattle Seahawk quarterback Jim Zorn, President Jimmy Carter, Senator Barry Goldwater, Sen. Edward Kennedy, President Ronald Reagan, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, gospel singer Evie Tornquist and televangelist Rex Humbard. And, of course, Rosa Parks.

In college, I added Nelson Mandela, Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Ray Charles.

By the grace of God — with a little luck and a journalism credential and some kindhearted mentors — I was able to see or meet all of them over the years.

But now, at age 43, my famous people “Bucket List” is increasingly short. Translation — there aren’t many people left who I’m dying to interview in this lifetime.

And that small list shrunk on Friday, with the passing of Albertina Walker. She was arguably the greatest living gospel singer in the world (along with Shirley Caesar and Aretha Franklin, perhaps). I made up my mind, earlier this year, that I would absolutely, positively interview her and hear her sing the next time she came to Arkansas. And she did come to Arkansas, just a few months ago. But she was singing in a real small town — probably 2.5 or 3 hours from Little Rock — and it’s a long drive, and gas prices are high, and it’s not even close to the Interstate and I’ve had a hard week and I really ought to stay here and get some work done and…..

You can see what happened. At the last minute, I decided I would take a rain check on this concert and see Albertina Walker the next next time she came to Arkansas. It’s a decision I’ve been regretting all weekend.

For those of you who don’t follow gospel music, you may have heard Albertina Walker’s voice on the “Leap of Faith” (starring Steve Martin) soundtrack. Or you can click on the video above and hear one of my favorite gospel anthems — “I Can Go To God In Prayer.”

Updated: October 9, 2010 — 10:20 pm

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  1. What a voice. What joy. I’ll keep Albertina in mind when we sing this morning.

    Frank, your bucket list is a most unusual collection of diverse people! I can see a few common threads weaving through the bunch.

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