Friday, September 27, 2013

Edwin Hawkins Singers--Oh Happy Day (1969)

      The advent of You Tube has brought an entirely different avenue for people to become music stars. In the early days of rock music especially in the US, artists would become popular in their local area, put a record out, and hope that a national chain would buy the contract so that the artist would get national exposure. This was the way that the Edwin Hawkins Singers would do it as well, the story behind this great song is even more interesting.
     Edwin Hawkins was a prodigy, having taken over as the keyboard player in his family's gospel group in 1950 (at the age of 7!) spending that decade performing and making their first recording in 1957. He continued working as a music minister and artist throughout the 60's when he came up with an idea for a city wide youth choir.
     Based in San Francisco, Edwin and Betty Watson recruited the best soloists in the city to form what was first known as the Northern California State Youth Choir. They recorded an album called "Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord" in 1968 as a fund raiser for the area churches. There were only 500 copies of it made at the time. It's blend of gospel and R&B was a new sound and several outside of gospel took notice. 
      A few of those people were FM disc jockey's in the bay area. Back in that day very few stations used the FM frequency as many radios only had AM available. So it became a bastion for the new modern rock sound in many cities, with San Francisco being the hub.  Before long, others in San Francisco began to take notice and the song, which had not actually been released as a single yet was becoming a radio hit. It was released as a single for local, then national coverage and it became a world wide hit selling over 7 million copies and winning a Grammy.
      The song, spurred on by the powerhouse vocals of Dorothy Morrison, put the group, now called the Edwin Hawkins Singers in the spotlight and in great demand. A couple of years later they were featured on a hit by folk singer Melanie called, "Lay Down (Candles In the Rain)". Although they never achieved notoriety on that scale, they proceeded to win four more Grammys in the course off the next 15 years. For his part, Hawkins scaled down the touring and recording in the early 80's while organizing, "The Edwin Hawkins Music and Arts Festival" which was conceived in order to promote, encourage, and educate young artists which continues to this day.



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