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NPR Arts & Life

The Story Of The Edwin Hawkins Singers' 'Oh Happy Day'

Edwin Hawkins, a Grammy Award-winning gospel singer and arranger, passed away this past January at the age of 74. He left behind an unmatched legacy, revolutionizing what it means to be a gospel artist. His crowning achievement was bringing his arrangement of "Oh Happy Day," originally an 18th Century hymn, to wide audiences. The song debuted 50 years ago in 1968 and became the first gospel song to hit the secular charts.

Hawkins' use of contemporary sounds — a Latin groove, synthesizers, a soul-influenced lead vocal performance — created a new model for gospel music. It opened the door for artists like Aretha Franklin, The Winans and Richard Smallwood to bring the Good News into the secular realm. "Oh Happy Day" has become a gospel standard. It's been covered by hundreds of artists across genres.

WXPN's Gospel Roots of Rock and Soul producer Alex Lewis brings us this piece on the history and legacy of Edwin Hawkins' gospel classic. Hear the story of "Oh Happy Day" in the player and watch the 1969 Big Sur Folk Festival performance below.

Gospel Roots of Rock and Rollhas been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

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