The American gospel music star Edwin Hawkins has died at his home in California, at the age of 74.The Grammy-winning singer had been suffering from pancreatic cancer, his publicist said. Hawkins was regarded as a pioneer of urban gospel music, blending gospel hymns with secular sound. He is best-known for the 1969 hit Oh Happy Day. The following year the Edwin Hawkins Singers backed Melanie on her top 10 hit Lay Down (Candles in the Rain).
About his signature hit:
Edwin Hawkins’ gospel style arrangement of the hymn “Oh, Happy Day” has a long pedigree. It began as a hymn written in the mid-18th century (“O happy day, that fixed my choice”) by English clergymanPhilip Doddridge (based on Acts 8:35) set to an earlier melody (1704) by J. A. Freylinghausen. By the mid-19th century it had been given a new melody by Edward F. Rimbault, who also added a chorus, and was commonly used for baptismal or confirmation ceremonies in the UK and USA. The 20th century saw its adaptation from 3/4 to 4/4 time and this new arrangement by Hawkins, which contains only the repeated Rimbault refrain, with all of the original verses being omitted. The B-side of the single was Hawkins’ own modern arrangement of “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” originally written by Charles Wesley in 1740. Hawkins’ arrangement quickly became a “standard” and has been recorded by hundreds of artists. It was included on the RIAASongs of the Century list and won Hawkins a Grammy Award for Best Soul Gospel Performance in 1970 (performed by the Edwin Hawkins Singers). In live performances and acoustic versions of the Nick Cave song “Deanna” (1988), portions of “Oh Happy Day” are included, revealing the inspiration for Cave’s song. George Harrison has stated the song was a primary inspiration in the writing of his 1970 international hit single “My Sweet Lord.” The song has appeared in many movies, beginning with the German film Seventeen and Anxious in 1970, but most notably Whoopi Goldberg’s Sister Act 2, with then-17-year-old Ryan Toby singing lead. The song also appears in Big Momma’s House, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, David LaChapelle’s 2005 movie Rize, Robin Williams’s 2007 movie License to Wed., and in 2010 biographical film produced by Walt Disney Pictures: Secretariat.
You can hear the definitive version by the Edwin Hawkins Singers in the video below. The song never fails to make me smile. God bless him.