The Edwin Hawkins Singers with The Surprise Hit “Oh Happy Day”

Introduction to The Edwin Hawkins Singers

The Edwin Hawkins Singers were a group of gospel crooners led by, of course, Edwin Hawkins (born in Oakland, California in 1943) who pioneered a genre called “urban contemporary gospel.” In 1967 he and Betty Watson formed the 50-strong ensemble North Carolina State Youth Choir (later to be renamed the Edwin Hawkins Singers). The following year the group recorded its first LP Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord to bolster their funds for their church (Ephesian Church Of God situated in Berkeley). One of the songs on that album was “Oh Happy Day.” The record was eventually picked up by radio dis jockeys in San Francisco’s Bay Area. It grew in popularity until the single spread throughout the country and even overseas, much to the surprise of the Hawkins and the group. “Oh Happy Day” broke into the Top 10 pop chart during the late 60s music era and even hit it big in other countries, having sold a total of seven million copies. The singers weren’t able to follow up their single and became a one-hit wonder, although up to this day they’re still performing albeit with reduced number of members.

Meet The Edwin Hawkins Singers

The Edwin Hawkins Singers was formed in the 1960’s gathered by the American gospel musician, pianist, choir master, composer and arranger Edwin Hawkins. Born Edwin Reuben Hawkins on August 18, 1943 in Oakland, California, he is considered one of the early artists who helped define the urban contemporary gospel sound. As a 7-year old, Hawkins was already playing keyboards for their family’s gospel choir.

Years later, along with Betty Watson, Hawkins founded the Northern California State Youth Choir of the Church of the Choir, which comprised of over 50 members. The ensemble privately recorded their debut album Let Us Go into the House of the Lord at the Ephesian Church of God in Christ for the hopes of bolstering the amount of funds for their own church. The album was released on the Century 70 imprint and included one of the tracks titled “Oh Happy Day.” It featured the voice of Dorothy Combs Morrison.

The success of “Oh Happy Day”

In the late 1960’s, San Francisco-based radio stations included “Oh Happy Day” on their playlist and it became a favorite in the area. The song was also distributed by Buddah imprint (Pavilion subsdiary) and became the act’s biggest hit. “Oh Happy Day” was  an international success, peaking at #4 in the US, #2 in the UK, #2 in Ireland and also topping the charts in Germany. It rapidly sold over a million copies within two months and later, the sales blew up to 7 million worldwide. Hawkins’ arrangement of the unexpected hit also won him a Grammy.

In 1970, the American pop rock group The Four Season recorded their version of “Oh Happy Day” which was included in their album Half & Half. The Ed Hawkins Singers collaborated with the singer Melanie to record “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain) in 1970. Billed by “Melanie with the Edwin Hawkins Singers,” by Buddah, the song peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the said year.