One of the principal ingredients of rhythm and blues was the gospel music of the black churches; you could argue that R&B was basically just preaching on secular themes, and you wouldn't be too far off the mark. Edwin R. Hawkins, only twenty-four years old in 1967, wasn't thinking about that, though; he and Betty Watson, music directors at the Ephresian Church of God in Christ in Berkeley, California, were busy assembling a multi-church choir for that summer's Youth Congress in Washington. Once back at home, the Northern California State Youth Choir cut an album as a fundraiser; reportedly a thousand copies of Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord were pressed, and one of them somehow found its way to Tom "Big Daddy" Donahue at KMPX-FM in San Francisco, who began playing the heck out of one of the tracks. Word spread, and eventually Neil Bogart picked up the album for national distribution; perhaps seeing a problem with a decidedly-Christian recording on the Buddah label, Bogart created the Pavilion label for the group, now billed as the Edwin Hawkins Singers. "Oh Happy Day," Donahue's favorite track, was issued as a single, which within six weeks of release climbed to Number Four on Billboard's Hot 100. Lead vocalist Dorothy Combs Morrison, sensing an opportunity, struck out on her own as a solo, scoring small hits with gospel tunes and with secular songs that had gospel overtones (Elton John's "Border Song" and Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" both charted). Hawkins and the Singers cut two more albums for Buddah, and backed up Melanie on her 1970 single "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)" before dropping back below the national radar, but continued to issue gospel albums, and won four Grammys between 1969 and 1983. Not too many radio stations play "Oh Happy Day" these days, but when they do, it's awfully hard to resist falling into the aisle and joining in the joyful noise unto the Lord.
Where can I get this on CD?
Sony/BMG, which now owns the respelled Buddha imprint, has issued a Best of the Edwin Hawkins Singers compilation (74465-99727-2) which is titled, of course, Oh Happy Day. As of mid-2006, "Oh Happy Day" could be purchased on iTunes.
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