Edwin Hawkins

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Edwin Hawkins
The Edwin Hawkins Singers performing at the 1970 Edison Awards
The Edwin Hawkins Singers performing at the 1970 Edison Awards
Background information
Birth nameEdwin Reuben Hawkins
Born(1943-08-19)August 19, 1943
Oakland, California, U.S.
DiedJanuary 15, 2018(2018-01-15) (aged 74)
Pleasanton, California, U.S.
Occupation(s)Singer, songwriter, producer
Instrument(s)Vocals, keyboards
Years active1960s–1990s
LabelsPavilion, Buddah, Myrrh

Edwin Reuben Hawkins (August 19, 1943 – January 15, 2018) was an American gospel musician, pianist, vocalist, choir master, composer, and arranger. He was one of the originators of the urban contemporary gospel sound. As the leader of the Edwin Hawkins Singers, he was probably best known for his arrangement of "Oh Happy Day" (1968–69), which was included on the "Songs of the Century" list. In 1970, the Edwin Hawkins Singers made a second foray into the charts, backing folk singer Melanie on "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)".


Hawkins was born in Oakland, California, on August 19, 1943.[1] At the age of seven, he was already the keyboardist for the family's gospel music band.

Together with Betty Watson in May 1967, he founded the Northern California State Youth Choir of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), which included almost fifty members.[2] This ensemble recorded its first album, Let Us Go into the House of the Lord, at the Ephesian Church of God in Christ in Berkeley, California (on the Century 70 custom label owned by LaMont Branch). The choir used this LP to raise funds to travel to the 1968 Youth Congress for COGIC in Washington, D.C. to compete in the Congress' annual choir competition, representing the Northern California region. The choir finished in second place at the contest, and that was the first of many surprises coming their way. Upon their return to California, their LP found its way into the hands of a KSAN underground rock DJ in San Francisco who happened to pick "Oh Happy Day" to play on his station; the song became an instant hit. The soloists on the album were Elaine Kelly, Margarette Branch, Dorothy Combs Morrison (the original lead singer on "Oh Happy Day"), Tramaine Davis (Hawkins), Reuben Franklin, Donald Cashmere, Betty Watson, and Ruth Lyons.

Once "Oh Happy Day" received radio airplay in other parts of the U.S. and the ensemble learned of the song's rising success, they began to contact people in the recording industry who helped them obtain a major contract. The ensemble signed with the newly created Pavilion label (distributed by Buddah), and released a second LP, entitled He's A Friend of Mine, in 1969. But it was "Oh Happy Day" that rocketed to sales of more than a million copies within two months. The song crossed over to the pop charts, making U.S. No. 4, UK No. 2,[3] Canada No. 2, No. 2 on the Irish Singles Chart, and No. 1 on the French Singles Charts, the Netherlands [4] and the German Singles Charts in 1969.[5] It became an international success, selling more than 7 million copies worldwide, and Hawkins was awarded his first Grammy for the recording. His arrangement of the song was eventually covered by The Four Seasons on their 1970 album Half & Half.

The choir's second LP Top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 charts was the 1970 Melanie single "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)," on which the label listed the performers as "Melanie with The Edwin Hawkins Singers". The song peaked at No. 6 in the U.S. and Top 10 in several other countries.[citation needed]

In 1990, Hawkins, credited as a solo performer, had a number 89 hit on the R&B chart with "If at First You Don't Succeed (Try Again)".[6]

In the 1992 movie Leap of Faith, Hawkins is the choir master for the gospel songs. [citation needed]

The Edwin Hawkins Singers performance of "Oh Happy Day" at the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival appears in the 2021 music documentary, Summer of Soul.[7]

Hawkins died of pancreatic cancer on January 15, 2018, in his home, in Pleasanton, California, at the age of 74.[8]


Edwin Hawkins Singers in 1970


  • 1968: Let Us Go into the House of the Lord
  • 1969: He's A Friend Of Mine
  • 1969: Peace Is "Blowin' In The Wind"
  • 1969: Oh Happy Day (Buddah Records re-issue of previous 1968 LP Let Us Go into the House of the Lord)
  • 1969: Jesus, Lover of My Soul
  • 1969: Hebrew Boys
  • 1969: Lord Don't Move That Mountain
  • 1969: Ain't It Like Him
  • 1970: Live at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam
  • 1970: Candles in the Rain with Melanie Safka
  • 1970: Pray For Peace
  • 1970: More Happy Days
  • 1971: Try the Real Thing
  • 1971: Children Get Together
  • 1971: Freeing the Spirit with Clarence Rivers and the Hawkins Family
  • 1972: I'd Like To Teach the World To Sing
  • 1973: New World
  • 1976: Wonderful
  • 1977: The Comforter
  • 1977: Edwin Hawkins Presents the Matthews Sisters
  • 1979: Edwin Hawkins Live at the Symphony
  • 1981: Edwin Hawkins Live with the Oakland Symphony Orchestra
  • 1982: Imagine Heaven
  • 1982: Edwin Hawkins Live with the Oakland Symphony Orchestra & The Love Center Choir Volume II
  • 1983: Edwin Hawkins presents The Music and Arts Seminar Mass Choir
  • 1984: Angels Will Be Singing with the Music and Arts Seminar Mass Choir
  • 1985: Have Mercy with the Music and Arts Seminar Mass Choir
  • 1987: Give Us Peace with the Music and Arts Seminar Mass Choir
  • 1988: People in Need with Tramaine Hawkins and the Edwin Hawkins Singers to benefit Homeless USA
  • 1988: That Name with the Music and Arts Seminar Mass Choir
  • 1990: Face to Face
  • 1991: Seminar 91
  • 1992: Music & Arts Seminar Mass Choir recorded live in Los Angeles
  • 1993: If You Love Me
  • 1994: Kings and Kingdoms with the Music and Arts Seminar Mass Choir
  • 1995: Anything is Possible
  • 1998: Love Is the Only Way


  • 1989: 18 Great Songs
  • 1998: The Very Best Of

Awards and honors[edit]

Altogether Hawkins has won four Grammy Awards:

In 2007, Hawkins was inducted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame;[9] he attended the formal awards show in 2009.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ California Birth Index. "Edwin Reuben Hawkins, Born 08/18/1943 in California". California Birth Index. Retrieved March 27, 2015.
  2. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Biography: Edwin Hawkins". AMG. Retrieved May 8, 2010.
  3. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 246. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  4. ^ Nederlandse Top 40
  5. ^ Günter Ehnert (ed.): Hit Bilanz. Deutsche Chart Singles 1956–1980. Hamburg: Taurus Press 1990, p. 93.
  6. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1996). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942–1995. Record Research. p. 185. ISBN 0-89820-115-2.
  7. ^ Greene, Bryan (June 2017). "Parks and Recreation: Harlem at a Crossroads in the Summer of '69". Poverty and Race Research Action Council.
  8. ^ "Gospel star Edwin Hawkins dead at 74". The Washington Post. January 16, 2018. Archived from the original on January 16, 2018. Retrieved January 15, 2018.
  9. ^ "Welcome to the Christian Music Hall of Fame". December 25, 2009. Archived from the original on December 25, 2009.

External links[edit]