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Edwin Hawkins Impacted Popular Culture Through Gospel Music

Gospel star Edwin Hawkins, most notable for the crossover hit "Oh Happy Day," died of pancreatic cancer at 74.

Alongside luminaries like Andrae Crouch and James Cleveland, Hawkins was considered one of the founders of what is now considered contemporary gospel music. An elder brother in the talented family that also included vocalist Tramaine Hawkins and the late great Walter Hawkins, Edwin Hawkins was a keyboard player, arranger, composer, and choir director whose music inspired generations.

In 1969, he become one of the first gospel artists to sell a million copies of a song with "Oh Happy Day." By demonstrating that there was a robust market for inspirational music, Hawkins' smash success paved the way for other gospel artists to follow up with commercial success in the 70s and 80s.

But even beyond his influence among gospel musicians, Edwin Hawkins was lauded for his impact across American popular culture.

"I think our music was probably a blend and a crossover of everything that I was hearing during that time," Hawkins told Blackmusic.com in 2015. "We grew up hearing all kinds of music in our home."

Hawkins was credited with four Grammys, and his hit song was re-recorded by Glen Campbell, Johnny Mathis, and Elvis Presley. Even the Beatles' George Harrison admitted Hawkins was an influence when he penned his own faith-based tune, "My Sweet Lord."

Edwin Hawkins lived as proof that renouncing the faith was not an essential prerequisite to musical success, and that the moment of salvation didn't have to be a grim reckoning.

On the contrary, it could be quite happy.

Potential Preaching Angles: Little becomes much when put in the master's hands. Your gift will make room for you. When we make it our mission to worship well, God takes care of the rest.

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