Any lover of gospel music would count Lady Tramaine Hawkins as an icon. Whether it's her impressive "O Happy Day" recording or the work she's done on the Love Alive Series, the San Francisco Bay Area native has made her mark on the industry. ESSENCE.com spoke with Hawkins about her upcoming honor during the Gospel Tribute at the ESSENCE Festival this July, her passion for singing and her commitment to community service.
ESSENCE.com: How thrilled are you to be honored at the ESSENCE Festival's Gospel Tribute along with Donnie McClurkin?
Lady Tramaine Hawkins: It's an honor to be recognized by such a wonderful organization as ESSENCE, and I'm thrilled to be honored with Donnie. Donnie is awesome as a person, an artist and a pastor. I love him so much. He's just a real source of encouragement. We did a duet together that's coming out on his new CD. His music speaks for itself and it's so anointed.
ESSENCE.com: You've been in the music business for a long time. What does gospel music mean for you at this time of your life?
Hawkins: I've been in the business now for more than 45 years and am very proud to be a gospel artist. I grew up in the church and started singing when I was four years old. I recorded my first album with The Heavenly Tones at 12. We were produced by the late, great Reverend James Cleveland. I've always believed I was born to sing and have a calling on my life to sing gospel music.
ESSENCE.com: Do you appreciate how gospel music is represented today?
Hawkins: I am excited about the recognition gospel music has received over the last 10 years. I'm very thankful that so many young people are listening to gospel music now. Artists like Kurt Carr and younger groups coming out now are all positive. As long as they keep God first and the message of encouragement is out there, it will always continue to have the attention it deserves.
ESSENCE.com: What's next for your career?
Hawkins: I'm embarking on another recording, which will give my sound exposure in a different kind of music genre. I'm in my 60s now and I'm just fortunate to still have the gift of song. My voice is still strong.
ESSENCE.com: In addition to your career, you're big on giving back to your community. What's the nature of your community service work now?
Hawkins: I have my doctorate degree in performing arts, so I'm giving back with teaching. I don't sing easy. The songs I perform really call for me to use my full range vocally and I've learned how to preserve that. I want to teach younger people how to do that, too.
ESSENCE.com: Churches in Black communities are also known for their community service work. How do you view the role of a church?
Hawkins: A lot of times, we feel like established churches are there for people to come, but sometimes you have to go where people are to show them the love of Jesus. Churches should be open and accessible. Go out to the community to hold food and clothing drives and visit people's homes. From time to time, I sing at convalescent and senior citizen homes to encourage people.
Learn more about the All Star Get Lifted Gospel Tribute taking place during the ESSENCE Festival on Sunday, July 7.