Legendary Gospel singer Edwin Hawkins, best known for groundbreaking Gospel arrangements, particularly “Oh Happy Day” has died at 74.
Hawkins’ publicist Bill Carpenter told the Associated Press that the singer died early Monday at his home in Pleasanton, California, after battling pancreatic cancer.
Hawkins won four Grammys over the course of his career and is credited with pioneering the Contemporary Gospel music genre, along with Andrae Crouch, James Cleveland and a handful of others,. He blended gospel hymns with a secular sound and “Oh Happy Day” was the first gospel song to reach the top 40 charts. It reached the top 10 and also became an international hit in 1969.
He and his siblings were part of the popular music group, the Hawkins Family. He and his brother, Walter Hawkins, who died in 2010, were self-taught keyboard players in Oakland, California, who recorded their first record to raise money for their church before “Oh Happy Day” became a hit, according to the New York Times.
Their first album, “Let Us Go into the House of the Lord” (1968), intended only as a local recording, interpreted Gospel music with a rhythm-and-blues flavor. Radio stations in the San Francisco Bay area began playing one of the album’s eight tracks, “Oh, Happy Day,” an 18th century hymn, arranged by Mr. Hawkins in call-and-response style.
Oh, Happy Day,” featuring the vocals of Dorothy Combs Morrison, was released as a single credited to the Edwin Hawkins Singers. The song’s left-field success — it reached No. 4 on the Billboard pop chart, No. 2 on the R&B chart and became a million-seller in 1969 — was an unusual instance of gospel music selling to pop audiences.
George Harrison would later cite the recording as inspiration for his hit, “My Sweet Lord.” Glen Campbell, Elvis Presley, Johnny Mathis and numerous others also would record the song.
In 1970, the Hawkins singers backed Melanie on her top 10 hit “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)” and won a Grammy for best soul gospel performance for “Oh, Happy Day.”
In 2007, he was voted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame. He also toured on occasion with younger brother Walter Hawkins, a Grammy-winning gospel singer and composer who died in 2010, also of pancreatic cancer.
Survivors include his sisters Carol, Feddie and Lynette and his brother Daniel.
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