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The world's gospel trailblazer

FAREWELL: Edwin Hawkins’ ‘Oh Happy Day’ took the commercial world by storm in the 1960s

THE WORLD was in mourning on hearing of the death of gospel Edwin Hawkins, who has died aged 74 after suffering
with pancreatic cancer. He was an artist credited with taking gospel mainstream in the late 1960s with his hit single
Oh Happy Day, one of the most well-known and popular gospel music songs in the world.

The song, a modern arrangement of a gospel hymn, was first featured on an album Edwin recorded with the Northern
California State Youth, the choir he co-founded. The album was part of a fundraising exercise to raise $500 to attend the COGIC convention.

Instead, Edwin inadvertedly created a hit. Oh Happy Day caught the ear of Abe Kesh, a DJ on KSAN, the local Bay Area radio station, who began playing the track on his show. The song’s popularity grew, the name of the choir was changed to the Edwin Hawkin Singers, and ‘Oh Happy Day’ was released as a single.

At the time of its release, it reached No. 2 on the pop charts and No. 4 on the R’n’B charts. In 1970, Edwin won the a
grammy for best gospel soul performance. To date, Oh Happy Day has sold more than seven million copies. Numerous gospel and pop artists were inspired by the song’s success.

Former Beatle George Harrison said the song inspired him to write his hit My Sweet Lord, and top artists who have
performed the song include Elvis Presley, Johnny Matthis, Arethra Franklin and country star Glen Campbell. The song
is even featured on the hit film ‘Sister Act’.

Artists who paid tribute to Edwin include Grammy Award winning singer/producer Donald Lawrence. He said: “Edwin
Hawkins was not only a musical hero to me but he came to be a mentor and a close friend.”

Richard Smallwood acknowledged Edwin’s towering influence on gospel. He shared: “Edwin changed the face of gospel music and helped create a fresh-sounding genre that spread around the entire world.

“He was a humble and kind spirit that not only encouraged others who were privileged to meet him, but also inspired
millions to be daring in their creativity.”

The singer was born in August 19, 1943 in Oakland, California, and started playing the piano at age five in the COGIC
church attended by his mother. Hawkins often toured with his younger and equally successful singing brother, Walter,
and Walter’s then wife, Tramaine, as The Hawkins Family in the 1970s.

Their energetic stage show filled civic centers and concert halls across the world, including DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, DC. Edwin Hawkins, with his group and as a soloist, continued to make gospel radio hits throughout the next two decades including, Worship The Lord, God Will Take Care of You, Give Me A Star and To My Father’s House.

In 2001, The Recording Industry Association of America ranked Oh Happy Day at No. 63 in its Top 365 Songs of the 20th Century listing.

Premier Radio presenter Muyiwa led UK tributes to Edwin’s influence.

“His influence in the UK is so vast it’s hard to quantify.

“You are guaranteed that every event outside of the church walls that wanted a song that speaks of unity joy solidarity
would pick Oh Happy Day as the finale song for all to sing.

“We will never know all the lives Edwin has touched with his amazing gift.”

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