Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Oh Happy Day: Edwin Hawkins Singers

The most popular post (not by far!) on the Washerman’s Dog thus far has been the Abyssinian Baptist Church Gospel Choir and so I thought it would be good post a bit more wonderful gospel music. I duly uploaded two collections of the Rev James “The King of Gospel Music” Cleveland’s uplifting, rousing choir music and was looking forward to sharing them with all friends and followers of the Dog.

Rev (?) James Cleveland
But while I was doing a bit of research on the man who is deemed to have virtually created the modern gospel music genre by drawing upon popular music and jazz elements and experimenting with the use of mass vocal choirs, I was stunned to learn that a hint of scandal surrounded his death. Heart failure say the official biographies and website. AIDS say others.  A little digging opened a huge can of worms that has left me so disappointed that I’ve decided I can’t promote the man’s music here.

It appears that in African American gospel music and black church circles it was common knowledge that Cleveland and many other prominent preachers, gospel singers and musical directors were publicly homophobic and pious but when the sermons were over, indulged in the most blatant homosexual predatory behavior. Leaving families, churches, and children destroyed in their wake.  Here is but one easily accessible link that exposes some of this distressing story.

While I let this really sad news filter through my consciousness, I’ll post another collection of equally excellent gospel music, this time from The Edwin Hawkins Singers. A trailblazing force behind the evolution of the contemporary gospel sound, Edwin Hawkins remains best known for his 1969 classic "Oh Happy Day," one of the biggest gospel hits of all time and a major pop radio smash as well.
Edwin Hawkins

Born in Oakland, CA in 1943, he began singing in his church youth choir while still a toddler, and by age five was playing piano; just two years later, he assumed full-time piano accompaniment duties for the family gospel group, making their recorded debut in 1957. A decade later, Hawkins and Betty Watson co-founded the Northern California State Youth Choir, drawing on the finest soloists from throughout the Bay Area to build the 50-member ensemble, which soon entered the studio to cut the 1968 LP Let Us Go into the House of the Lord, its modern, R&B-influenced production pointing the way to a new era in gospel recording. 

Among the highlights of Let Us Go into the House of the Lord was the track "Oh Happy Day," which unexpectedly found a home on underground FM play lists across San Francisco; the single soon began earning airplay on mainstream R&B and pop outlets across the country, and in the spring of 1969 it reached the U.S. Top Five on the on its way to selling an astounding seven million copies and taking home a Grammy award.

At this time the choir was rechristened the Edwin Hawkins Singers, although the featured voice on "Oh Happy Day" belonged to singer Dorothy Combs Morrison, who soon exited in pursuit of a solo career. Her loss proved devastating to Hawkins' long-term commercial fortunes, although in 1970 the ensemble did make a return appearance on the pop charts in support of Melanie on her hit "Lay Down (Candle in the Wind)." 

Still, Hawkins remained a critical favorite, and in 1972 the Singers won a second Grammy for Every Man Wants to Be Free. Recording prolifically throughout the remainder of the decade, in 1980 they won a third Grammy for Wonderful; a fourth, for If You Love Me, followed three years later.

In 1982, Hawkins also founded the Edwin Hawkins Music and Arts Seminar, an annual week-long convention that offers workshops exploring all facets of the gospel industry and culminating each year with a live performance by the assembled mass choir. Although Hawkins recorded less and less frequently in the years to follow, he continued touring regularly, including a series of 1995 dates with the Swedish choir Svart Pa Vitt. His Music and Arts Seminar continued to grow as well, with the 2002 choir including members from the U.S., Europe, and Japan. Hawkins also recorded throughout the 2000s, releasing All the Angels in 2004 and Have Mercy four years later.

         Track Listing:
         01 let us go into the house of the lord
         02 pray for peace
         03 Oh, Happy Day
         04 joy, joy
         05 Give Me a Star
         06 i shall be free
         07 to my father's house
         08 someday
         09 jesus, lover of my soul
         10 ooh child
         11 precious memories
         12 late in the evening
         13 A Long Way to Go
         14 blowin' in the wind
         15 i'm going through

Listen here


Rebecca said...

The age-old dilemma: The man vs his Art. Does one negate the other? Can the one redeem the other?
I dunno.

Rebecca said...

Thanks for another great blog though!

ajnabi said...

I'm not sure. My gut says when it comes to preying on children and that too by while hiding behind 'the Lord' negates everything about a person. But the music in its own right is wonderful...powerful. Can one separate the artist from his work? For me in this instance, I say no. but this discovery was so shocking for me that I'm reacting strongly.

Anonymous said...

To answer the calling, the duty of being the mouth piece of God means that one be held to a different standard, to whom much is given, music is required.

James Cleveland and MANY of the gospel artists and gospel/pastors you see in the lime-light lead totally different lives, lives that would TOTALLY contradict their teachings and "beliefs"

its one thing to have fallen once or twice, made a mistake or two, because they are still only human, but its another to be living a lie, meaning their whole being is contrary to the word.

I know for a fact, Mr Cleveland was homosexual (nothing against them) but i dont know the bible he preached from says that is in direct violation of God's wishes and requirements. Matter of fact, Kurt Carr started of as one of his.... women.

ajnabi said...

Sadly you're right anonymous.
Its one thing to fail. Another to deceive.