PLEASANTON, CA (CelebrityAccess) — Edwin Hawkins, a Grammy Award-winning singer who straddled the gospel and secular music world, died on Monday in Pleasanton, Calif after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 74.
“It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Dr. Edwin Hawkins –– a celebrated artist, innovator, and music icon. Though he will be greatly missed the world over, the message of love, life, and encouragement that he incorporated into his music gives us all the same hope that we’ll join him in heaven and sing `Oh Happy Day.’” a representative for the Hawkins Family wrote in a post on social media.
“Edwin Hawkins was not only a musical hero to me but he came to be a mentor and a close friend, “ said Grammy® winning singer/producer, Donald Lawrence. “His group also had a huge influence on Richard Smallwood who has known Edwin since Richard was 19 years old.” Smallwood adds, “Edwin changed the face of gospel music and helped create a fresh sounding genre that spread around the entire world. He was a humble and kind spirit that not only encouraged others who were privileged to meet him, but also inspired millions to be daring in their creativity.”
A native of Oakland, Hawki came to music at an early age, learning to play the keyboards in a local church at the age of five.
In 1967, Hawkins and a friend, Betty Watson, co-founded the Northern California State Youth Choir in order to attend the annual Chuch of God In Christ convention and went on to record an album “Let Us Go Into The House of The Lord” to help finance the trip.
While the financing plan didn’t pay off, one of the 500 copies the album ended up in the hands of KSAN-FM Radio DJ Abe “Voco” Kesh, who brought the group’s music, including “Oh Happy Day” which became Hawkins’ signature hit, to public awareness.
The group was signed to Buddha Records by label exec Neil Bogart and “Oh Happy Day” reached No. 2 on the Billboard R&B Singles chart and No. 4 on the Pop Singles chart in 1969. The Youth Choir’s rendition won them a Grammy in 1970 for Best Soul Gospel Performance. The tune has sold over 7 million copies to date and it established Hawkins’ career.
“I wasn’t planning to go into the music business and I wasn’t looking for a record deal,” he said in the book, Uncloudy Days: The Gospel Music Encyclpedia. “The record’s success decided my fate.”
Hawkins toured extensively, often on the road in the 1970s with his brother Walter, and Walter’s then wife, Tramaine, performing as The Hawkins Family. Hits from the period included: “Worship The Lord,” “God Will Take Care of You,” “Give Me A Star” and “To My Father’s House.”
In more recent years, Hawkins recorded occasionally and toured largely in Europe. He also sponsored the Edwin Hawkins Music & Arts Seminar to teach the next generation of musicians the business of music.
In 2001, The Recording Industry Association of America (R.I.A.A.) ranked “Oh Happy Day” No. 63 on its Top 365 Songs of the 20th Century listing. The song has been covered by dozens of artists, including Quincy Jones, Johnny Mathis, Glen Campbell, Aretha Franklin, Jason Mraz, Susan Boyle, The Oak Ridge Boys and Elvis Presley.
Hawkins is survived by his siblings Carol, Feddie, Daniel, and Lynette. Funeral arrangements are pending.