Edwin Hawkins, hailed as a co-founder of modern gospel music, along with Andrae Crouch and James Cleveland, died Monday, Jan. 22 at his home in Pleasanton, Calif., following a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Hawkins, 74, found great success after his crossover hit “Oh Happy Day” proved that gospel sounds could be adapted to pop lyrics and still remain reflective of unabashed religious faith.
The Oakland native, one of eight children, began performing with his family and church groups as a youth, forming the Northern California State Youth Choir in his 20s. The choir’s first album, “Let Us Go into the House of the Lord,” released in 1968, shocked the nation, with the lauded “Oh Happy Day,” an 18th century hymn Hawkins arranged in his tradition’s familiar call-and-response style, becoming a million-seller single, illustrating that a market existed for gospel and inspirational music during an era of great turbulence and strife.
Hawkins never failed to reach out to younger artists of faith, something to which this writer can personally attest as a former participant in his inspiring gospel music workshops, the Edwin Hawkins Music and Arts Seminars, that he offered for many years each summer in Atlanta during the ’80s and ’90s.
He often toured with his younger brother Walter, a Grammy winner who died in 2010. His surviving siblings include Carol, Feddie, Daniel and Lynette.