Oh Happy Day gospel star Edwin Hawkins dies aged 74

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The gospel singer best known for his song "Oh Happy Day" died on January 15. He had been suffering from pancreatic cancer, his publicist Bill Carpenter to the Associated Press.

A native of Oakland, Hawkins had been performing with his family and in church groups since he was a boy.

Their first album, Let Us Go Into The House of the Lord, came out in 1968 and was intended for local audiences.

One of the songs on the album, "Oh Happy Day", sung by Dorothy Morrison, was picked up in the San Francisco Bay area on underground radio stations and it eventually branched out to both the R&B and pop formats. The Edwin Hawkins Singers made a second foray into the charts exactly one year later, backing folk singer Melanie on "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)".

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The unusual pop hit was an inspiration to music historian Mitch Myers.

For its is simple message of hope, spirit and goodwill to mankind Myers said he wished "Oh Happy Day" to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and followers of every other religious persuasion, including agnostics and atheists as well.

"Oh Happy Day" is an 18th-century hymn which Hawkins arranged in a call and response style. "Elvis Presley, Johnny Mathis and numerous others also would record it". It then became an global success, selling more than 7 million copies worldwide, and Hawkins was awarded his first Grammy for it. Hawkins' arrangement of the song was eventually covered by The Four Seasons on their 1970 album Half & Half. He also toured on occasion with younger brother Walter Hawkins, a Grammy victor who died in 2010.

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