Edwin Hawkins, the gospel star best known for the crossover hit “Oh Happy Day” and as a major force for contemporary inspirational music, died Monday at age 74.
Last Thursday, Hawkins’ family wrote on social media that he was suffering “several health challenges.” They continued, “We ask that you please send your support, love, well wishes and prayers of comfort and healing to Edwin and his loved ones at this time.”
Hawkins died at his home in Pleasanton, California. He had been suffering from pancreatic cancer, publicist Bill Carpenter told the Press.
Born in Oakland, California, in 1943, Hawkins would go on to found the Northern California State Youth Choir. Their 1968 album, Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord, was privately pressed by a local record label, and contained Oh Happy Day, a stirring, uplifting gospel number that rejoiced in Jesus’s power to absolve sin.
After the song became popular on local radio stations, the choir were renamed the Edwin Hawkins Singers and the track was rereleased as a single.
It became an international hit, reaching No 2 in the UK and No 4 in the US. Oh Happy Day inspired George Harrison to write My Sweet Lord, was covered by Elvis Presley, Glen Campbell and Aretha Franklin, and influenced mainstream soul music. Its success also helped usher in contemporary gospel styles that embraced pop music.