- Kelcie Willis, Cox Media Group National Content Desk
Edwin Hawkins, the gospel singer best-known for the song “Oh Happy Day,” has died at age 74.
The New York Times reported that Hawkins’ publicist, Bill Carpenter, said the musician died of pancreatic cancer in Pleasanton, California.
Hawkins brought gospel music to the mainstream when “Oh Happy Day” reached No. 4 on the Billboard pop chart and No. 2 on the Billboard R&B chart in 1969.
The 18th-century hymn was given an infectious new arrangement and released on “Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord,” an album by Northern California State Youth Choir, a group put together by Hawkins and friend Betty Watson, to raise money to travel to Southern California for a gospel competition.
The Modesto Bee reported in a 2008 profile of Hawkins that the song took a life of its own when an underground radio DJ in San Francisco played it.
“It was recorded on a friend’s little two-track machine,” Hawkins told The Modesto Bee. “It was never intended for commercial purposes at all.”
The song earned the youth choir -- renamed the Edwin Hawkins Singers -- their first Grammy. It got the award for Best Soul Gospel Performance in 1970.
“Oh Happy Day” went on to be recorded by artists across multiple genres, including Elvis Presley, Johnny Mathis and Glen Campbell, The Associated Press reported.
The song saw a resurgence decades later when used in the 1993 Whoopi Goldberg comedy “Sister Act 2.”
Hawkins continued to make music after the success of “Oh Happy Day,” winning three more Grammys and getting voted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame in 2007.