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EDWIN HAWKINS,
1943-2018

Edwin Hawkins, the singer and choir leader who brought gospel music to pop radio with the 1969 hit single “Oh Happy Day,” died on Monday in Pleasanton, Calif., of pancreatic cancer. He was 74.

Hawkins had his unlikely pop success when an album he recorded with the group he founded with Betty Watson, the Northern California State Youth Choir, started receiving airplay on KSAN in the Bay Area.

Buddah picked up the private release, changed the group’s name to the Edwin Hawkins Singers and put it out on its newly created Pavilion label, releasing “Oh Happy Day” as a single.

The single went to #4, quickly selling more than 1m copies and reaching the Top 10 in the U.K. and Europe.

“Oh Happy Day” won Hawkins and his group a Grammy for Best Soul Gospel Performance. He would be nominated 19 times, receiving four Grammys.

“Edwin Hawkins was a celebrated recording artist recognized as a founder of modern gospel music,” said Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow. “Edwin's contributions to the contemporary Christian genre and commitment to music celebrating religious faith will continue to inspire both artists and audiences for years to come. Our thoughts go out to Edwin's family and collaborators during this difficult time.”

Hawkins, who started playing piano and singing in church at an early age, had a second hit in 1970 backing Melanie on “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain).” He would release about two dozen albums, the most recent being 2008’s Testify.

 

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