Bay Area African American Women in Music: Tramaine Hawkins takes Gospel to Selma and the Symphony


As a teenager growing up in Berkeley during the 1960s, Tramaine Hawkins, the daughter of Ronald and Lois “the Pie Queen” Davis, was well aware of the Civil Rights Movement. She was too busy, however, singing the praises of Jesus Christ at her grandfather Bishop E.E. Cleveland’s Ephesian Church of God in Christ and other churches to actively participate in the movement.

On Sunday, March 8, during the 50th anniversary of the infamous “Bloody Sunday” and the successful Selma-to-Montgomery march and passage of the Voting Rights Act that followed, Hawkins showed her support for the movement by taking part in a star-studded concert in Selma following a march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge.

Some 50,000 people attended the free concert, which also included performances by the Blind Boys of Alabama, Kirk Franklin, Doug E. Fresh, Kelly Price and Ruben Studdard. The reclusive Bill Withers spoke but let his two adult children do the singing.

“It was an awesome honor and a wonderful celebration of voting rights of African Americans,” the singer says. “My heart went out to the people there – parents, grandparents, children. It was an awesome sight to have our people come together like that to support and celebrate one another.”

Hawkins and many others were accompanied by a symphony orchestra and mass choir directed by Henry Panion III, a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Panion personally invited Hawkins to appear at the concert and has written earlier symphonic arrangements of some of her songs that were performed with orchestras in Washington, D.C., and other cities.

Hawkins will next perform his arrangements with the Stockton Symphony at Christmas concerts on December 12 and 13 in the Atherton Auditorium on the San Joaquin Delta College campus in Stockton.

“I’ve always loved a challenge. I’ve always loved to spread my wings and not just do one genre of music. I’ve been a trailblazer in a lot of respects, with what I did with “Fall Down” and singing with Carlos Santana. He recorded with me on my Grammy-winning album,” she says of her 1990 album “Tramaine Hawkins Live.”

“I think the range and intimacy and fervor of my voice really stand out when I’m singing with an orchestra. It really allows me to just kind of float and have a presence over the music,” she explains. “I hear different chord structures and really play with the melodies and experiment a little bit. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

Hawkins lives near Sacramento with her husband of 20 years, Tommie Richardson Jr. She was previously married to Bishop Walter Hawkins and was a featured soloist in his Love Center Choir. She has seven grandchildren and another on the way.

“So many artists have gleaned so much from me,” she explains, now billed as Lady Tramaine Hawkins. “I’ve always been known as a lady on stage with such presence.”


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