Edwin Hawkins, a Grammy Award-winning singer best known for crossover hit “Oh Happy Day” has died on Jan. 15 at his home in the Bay area at age 74.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, said his publicist, Bill Carpenter, reported The New York Times.
“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,'” the Hawkins family said in a statement on Jan. 16.
Hawkins was part of a musical family and is considered to be a highly influential figure in modern gospel music. In the 1960s, he and his friend Betty Watson had put together a 46-member music group, the Northern California State Youth Choir and recorded an album, “Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord,” which they intended to use to raise money for a gospel competition, reported the newspaper.
Rest In Peace Edwin. We Love You. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/RB0YfTzQUG
— Edwin Hawkins (@iamEdwinHawkins) January 16, 2018
In an unexpected turn of events, radio stations in the San Francisco Bay area began playing one of the album’s eight tracks, “Oh, Happy Day,” which was arranged by Hawkins. The catchy song spread and was eventually released as a single making its way to No. 4 on the Billboard pop chart and No. 2 on the R&B chart. The music group was also renamed the Edwin Hawkins Singers.
Carpenter said more than seven million copies were sold and the song won a Grammy for best soul gospel performance.
“Edwin changed the face of gospel music and helped create a fresh sounding genre that spread around the entire world,” friend Richard Smallwood said in a statement.
Hawkins is one of eight children and was born on Aug. 19, 1943, in Oakland California. He was raised in the Campbell Village projects.
“He discovered music early and began playing the keyboards in the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) denomination at the age of five,” the statement reads.
“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,” Smallwood said.