Erika Goldring/Getty ImagesEdwin Hawkins, a veteran gospel musician best known for the pop hit “Oh Happy Day,” passed away at the age of 74 on Monday. His publicist told the New York Times that Hawkins died of pancreatic cancer in Pleasanton, California.
Hawkins’ most popular song, “Oh Happy Day,” was an accidental hit, as it was initially recorded as part of an album by his gospel group The Northern California State Youth Choir, later renamed The Edwin Hawkins Singers.
The tune started getting local airplay in the Bay Area, and eventually it was released as a proper single and became a #4 hit in 1969 on Billboard’s pop songs chart. While the group was called The Edwin Hawkins Singers, the lead vocals on “Oh Happy Day” were actually performed by Dorothy Combs Morrison, with Hawkins arranging the track and playing piano.
“Oh Happy Day” was covered by such artists as Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin, and was famously performed in the movie Sister Act 2. Moreover, Beatles legend George Harrison cited “Oh Happy Day” as an inspiration for his solo hit “My Sweet Lord.”
According to the New York Times, Hawkins once said, “I wasn’t planning to go into the music business. The record’s success decided my fate.”
The Edwin Hawkins Singers would be part of another hit when they backed Melanie on her 1970 single “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain).”
Hawkins won four Grammy awards over the years, including one for Best Gospel Performance in 1970 for “Oh Happy Day.”
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