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James Cleveland Lifetime Achievement Award

2014 Recipient – Hezekiah Walker


Kurt CarrGrammy Award winning choir director and church pastor Hezekiah Walker has collaborated with Justin Timberlake, P. Diddy and Whitney Houston; recorded more than a dozen chart-topping albums and become the face of the black Gospel choir over an almost three decades long career. In speaking of his 14th CD, “Azusa The Next Generation,” Walker is philosophically pondering the past generations of believers who influenced his life – like the late Bishop Kenneth Moales (to whom the CD is dedicated) – while also imparting the wisdom of those elders to the next Azusa generation through his music and mentoring.


The first Azusa generation was that pioneering multi-racial sect that gathered at a rundown horse stable at 312 Azusa Street in the heart of a Los Angeles ghetto in spring 1906. There one-eyed preacher William J. Seymour kicked off a Pentecostal revival that lingered for almost 10 years and gave birth to a national Pentecostal Movement espousing a holiness lifestyle, speaking in tongues, faith healing and admonitions of an impending Rapture. In a manner, Walker is repackaging this faith that kept him during his adolescence and making it relatable to today’s youth.


Walker hopes “Azusa The Next Generation” creates a global response among today’s faithful and he unselfishly allowed both seasoned and rising songwriters to contribute to the project in order to craft the right songs to convey this message. Many of the choir members attend the Brooklyn, NY-based Love Fellowship Church he founded in the early 1990s.  Once the songs were chosen and taught to the choir that now numbers close to five hundred members, they went into the studio to lay the tracks.


Walker recruited a diverse group of Gospel artists such as Deitrick Haddon; Donnie McClurkin; Brian Courtney Wilson, and John P. Kee to help create this universal sound. “These guys bring an element that is relevant but they also bring something to the table from each of their unique foundations,” Walker adds.


Walker knows firsthand of the church’s power to transform lives. He was born on Christmas Eve night in Brooklyn, NY where his parents raised him and his three siblings in the notorious crime-ridden Fort Greene projects. In spite of their surroundings, the kids were immersed in church in part to shield them from their environment. From the age of eight, Walker had begun to sing in the church choir.


The church helped him through some rough times like when his father died when Walker was fourteen years old or when his mother died suddenly seven years later, on her way to church. After she passed, a despondent Walker quit his job at Xerox. Two months later he was out of money and facing eviction when he began to pray. When he finished, he started writing his first song. He took the hook of D.J. Rogers’ 1975 R&B song “(It’s Alright Now) I Think I’ll Make It Anyhow,” wrote new verses around his current trials and tribulations and changed the melody a bit to transform it into the Gospel hit “I’ll Make It.”


Walker formed the Love Fellowship Crusade Choir with a dozen members circa 1985 and taught them the song. They recorded the “I’ll Make It” LP live and it rose to #12 on Billboard’s Top Gospel Albums chart when Sweet Rain Records released it in 1988. The song was a huge hit that established the choir and led to a recording contract with Benson Records (later folded into The Verity Music Group now known as RCA Inspiration).


Walker’s emphasis on simple, catchy songs has helped him and the choir remain consistent hit makers ever since. The fan favorites have continued to flow, and they include “Lift Him Up;” “God Favored Me;” “Power Belongs To God;” “Jesus is My Help,” and “Let’s Dance” among others. Walker sees no reason for the trend to end now and sees the Azusa stage as an opportunity to expand his musical ministry.   

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