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Edwin Hawkins: "Oh Happy Day" Gospel Singer Dies
Edwin Hawkins, the gospel singer best known for his crossover hit "Oh Happy Day," died Jan. 15 from pancreatic cancer. He was 74 years old.
Hawkins began his career playing keyboard to accompany his family gospel choir in Oakland, Calif. In his 20s, he, along with Betty Watson, founded the Northern California State Youth Choir and he would go on to become a composer, keyboardist, arranger, and choirmaster in his own right.
With his collective rechristened Edwin Hawkins Singers, Hawkins released the group's debut album, Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord, in 1968. The LP, which charted at No. 15, contained the hit "Oh Happy Day." Featuring Dorothy Morrison as the lead singer, the song reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became one of the first hymns to reach crossover pop success. "Oh Happy Day," which was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame in 1999, would be recorded by other artists, including Glen Campbell, Johnny Mathis and Elvis Presley.
Edwin Hawkins Singers scored another Top 10 hit in 1970 with "Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)," which peaked at No. 6
"Oh Happy Day" earned Hawkins his first GRAMMY win at the 12th GRAMMY Awards for Best Soul Gospel Performance. He won additional three GRAMMYs in his career — Best Soul Gospel Performance for "Every Man Wants To Be Free" (1970), Best Soul Gospel Performance, Contemporary for "Wonderful!" (1977) and Best Gospel Album By A Choir for Edwin Hawkins Music & Arts Seminar Mass Choir — Recording Live In Los Angeles (1992).
Rest In Peace Edwin. We Love You. pic.twitter.com/RB0YfTzQUG
— Edwin Hawkins (@iamEdwinHawkins) January 16, 2018
By blending contemporary R&B, country and pop sounds into unapologetically Christian music, Hawkins is considered a founder of modern gospel music, along with contemporaries such as Andrae Crouch and James Cleveland. His approach would inspire others, including George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord." Hawkins was inducted into the Christian Hall of Fame in 2007.
"Edwin's contributions to the contemporary Christian genre and commitment to music celebrating religious faith will continue to inspire both artists and audiences for years to come," said Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow.