Inspirational music lovers are mourning the death of Gospel legend Edwin

Hawkins. The storied singer passed in his home earlier this week at age 74

after a battle with cancer. Hawkins left an indelible mark, but probably

his greatest contribution was the song “Oh Happy Day,” which he

composed. Hawkins,

a Grammy Award-winning singer who successfully merged Gospel and secular

sounds in a career highlighted a number of hits, most notably “Oh Happy

Day,” which was covered by numerous artists since its break out in 1969,

including Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin. Hawkins, part of a musical

family, was studying interior design at Laney College in Oakland, Calif.,

in the late 1960s and working with a group he and his friend Betty Watson

had put together, the Northern California State Youth Choir, reports the

New York Times. The group recorded an album, “Let Us Go Into the House of

the Lord,” which they intended to sell locally to raise money for a trip to

Southern California for a Gospel competition. “It was recorded on a

friend’s little two-track machine,” Hawkins told the Modesto Bee in 2008.

“It was never intended for commercial purposes at all.” A disc jockey at

the Bay Area FM station KSAN, Abe Kesh, began playing one particular track,

“Oh Happy Day.” The catchy song spread, and, with the group renamed the

Edwin Hawkins Singers, it was released as a single and eventually reached

No. 4 on the Billboard pop chart and No. 2 on the R&B chart. More than

seven million copies were sold, amd even by today’s standards, that’s a

lot. Hawkins was born on Aug. 19, 1943, in Oakland to Daniel and Mamie

Hawkins. His father was a longshoreman who liked to play Hawaiian steel

guitar. Edwin and his many siblings began singing at local churches as a

family group. By age 7 Edwin had replaced his mother as the group’s

pianist. Over the years, he’s toured internationally, often with his

siblings and other relatives as the Hawkins Family. He performed frequently

with his brother Walter, a gospel singer and composer who died in 2010,

also of pancreatic cancer. Hawkins’s survivors include his sisters Carol,

Feddie and Lynette and his brother Daniel.