Gospel singer Albertina Walker dies at 81

Albertina Walker, the Chicago singer known as the "Queen of Gospel" died Friday. She was 81.

Albertina Walker, the Chicago singer known as the "Queen of Gospel" died Friday. She was 81.

Walker died of respiratory failure at a Chicago hospital. She had been in hospital since August, battling emphysema.

Walker recorded dozens of gospel hits in a career lasting 50 years, including I Won't Last a Day Without You, Let Jesus Come Into Your Heart, I Will Wait on You and Joy Will Come In the Morning.

An 11-time nominee, she won a Grammy Award in 1995 for best traditional gospel album for Songs of the Church.

Illinois congressman Bobby Rush recalled Walker's contributions to the civil rights movement on Friday, saying her music was "a healing balm to those who struggled for justice."

Close friend and radio host Pam Morris called Walker "a living legend" and said she had launched the careers of more than a dozen gospel artists.

Many of the young singers who were members of her 1950s group the Caravans went on to big careers and others were helped by scholarships from the Albertina Walker Foundation for the Creative Arts.

Walker was mentored by Mahalia Jackson.

The youngest of nine children, born in Chicago in 1929, Walker began singing at age four at Chicago's West Point Baptist Church.

Urged by Jackson, she formed the group the Caravans in 1951 and it became one of the most popular on the gospel circuit. Singers such as Shirley Caesar, Inez Andrews, Bessie Griffin, Cassietta George, James Cleveland and future disco diva Loleatta Holloway were all members of the group at some time.

The group disbanded in the mid-1970s and Walker went on to a strong solo career.

She also joined other female singers in the group The Sisters of Glory who had a winning album with Good News in Hard Times.

Walker was known for her warm vocals and her long-time association with the Chicago Gospel Festival. She was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2001.

She continued recording with other gospel stars into the 2000s.

With files from The Associated Press