Walter Hawkins, a Grammy Award-winning singer, preacher and composer whose popular recordings and performances made him one of contemporary gospel music’s most prominent figures, died July 11 of pancreatic cancer at his home in Ripon, Calif. He was 61.

An ordained bishop in the Church of God in Christ denomination, he won a Grammy Award in 1980 for his performance of “The Lord’s Prayer.” He made recordings with artists as varied as Irish singer Van Morrison and Danish harmonica player Lee Oskar, and his compositions were covered by musicians including soul singer Aretha Franklin and “American Idol” winner Ruben Studdard.

Hawkins was a member of one of modern gospel’s leading families, which in the 1960s created a sound that reached beyond church walls onto the radio and into secular concert venues. The Hawkins family often performed in bellbottoms and loud colors, using drums, guitars and unbridled emotion to kindle an interest in gospel music among a wider audience, especially young people.

Their single “Oh Happy Day,” an 18th-century hymn arranged by Hawkins’ brother Edwin, became the first gospel song to climb the mainstream charts and won Edwin a Grammy Award in 1970 for best soul gospel performance. In the early 1970s, Walter Hawkins emerged from his brother’s shadow to found the Love Center Church in their home town, Oakland, Calif.

He served as pastor and formed a choir whose “Love Alive” series of recordings — often featuring the soaring soprano of his former wife, Grammy winner Tramaine Hawkins — sold millions of copies in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s and consistently topped Billboard’s gospel charts.

As a lead vocalist, the preacher was known as an operatic tenor who could start a song velvet-voiced and calm and then build to full-throated passion, reaching impossibly high notes as he sang in praise of God.

“He had a voice that would make you want to know who he was,” said the Rev. Jerome Bell, who represents Tramaine Hawkins and is a pastor at the Maryland Family Christian Center in Forestville.

Hawkins’ last performance was at the Kennedy Center in April. Clearly weakened by his illness, he nevertheless gave a rousing, emotional performance as a soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra and the Washington Performing Arts Society’s Men and Women of the Gospel Choir.

Walter Lee Hawkins was born in Oakland on May 18, 1949, the seventh of eight children who grew up in the projects.

His father was a longshoreman who liked country music; his mother was a pianist who encouraged her children to sing.

In 1968, almost overnight, “Oh Happy Day” became an international hit, selling an estimated 7 million copies.