From the Chicago Defender:
Gospel legend Edwin Hawkins was in Chicago recently, hosting the 29th Annual Edwin and Walter Hawkins Music and Arts Love Fellowship Conference.
The Chicago Defender caught up with him and reflected on the one song that catapulted him to one of the most esteemed artists in the gospel industry.
Hawkins is currently celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 1969 hit “Oh Happy Day,” a song that has become a classic in contemporary gospel music. But his entry into performing gospel music came even years before that.
Hailing from Oakland, California, at the age of 7 Edwin Hawkins began playing the piano for the Hawkins Family, which released its first recording in 1957. Then he started singing at several churches. In 1967, with assistance from Betty Watson, he started the Northern California State Youth Choir. They recorded their debut album, “Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord” in late 1969.
“We recorded that album on a two-track machine live at our church in Berkley, California,” Hawkins told the Defender.
The project included the songs “Joy Joy,” “Come Into My Father’s House” and “Oh Happy Day.”
A radio station in San Francisco began playing “Oh Happy Day” and the song skyrocketed in sales and popularity. The record had a mixture of traditional gospel music fused with elements of R&B, and Hawkins was credited with creating the urban contemporary gospel sound.
It’s a notion he rejects.
“That record was heard before some of the other artists that were doing some things that were on the edge at that time. One of them being, Andrae Crouch, who was an extraordinary talent,” Hawkins said.
“Oh Happy Day” climbed the gospel, R&B and pop music charts and went on to sell seven million records and garner Hawkins his first Grammy Award.
As popular as the song was when it was first released and remains today, ironically, it wasn’t the choir’s favorite recording, Hawkins revealed.
“God does what he does. We had no idea that the song would take off,” Hawkins said.
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