Multi-talented multi-Grammy award winner Edwin Hawkins always remains in the forefront of Gospel music by continually transforming Gospel music and attracting new audiences. He is the man who recorded the biggest gospel hit record of all time, “0h Happy Day”, in 1969 and who is the founder of the Edwin Hawkins Music and Arts Seminar, now in its fifteenth year.
The Edwin Hawkins Music and Arts Seminar is an annual music convention that features classes on song writing, keyboards, Gospel music ministry, choir decorum, fashion design, the business of music and communications, vocal techniques and dance drama. The seminar ends with the culmination of the week long activities, a live recording of the mass choir concert.
Edwin explains how it all started. “In my travels, I run into many-talented young folks whose only outlet is found in the church. There needed to be ways to help them further develop their skills and abilities to the glory of God. I decided to help them find themselves in the arts. I felt it incumbent upon me to marshal the finest artists and musicians who are also able to teach a diverse perspective. Happily, it has resulted in a nation-wide youthful interest in music and arts.”
Edwin Hawkins grew up in a musical family. Encouraged by his parents Mamie and Dan Lee, he began singing in youth choirs at a very early age. Edwin discovered he had a God-given ability to play the piano at the age of five. When he was seven, he took over full time playing duties for the Hawkins family group who released their first recording in 1957. His musical talents had him singing at several churches and on a weekly Sunday night radio broadcast before he was sixteen years old.
In 1967, with the help of Betty Watson, he started the Northern California State Youth Choir. Then, in 1968, Edwin and Ms. Watson recorded “Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord”. When this album was released later on that year, there was something distinctly different about it. The style of Gospel music, while featuring a traditional sounding choir and vocalists, had more of an R&B sound to it than anything previously recorded in Gospel.
On the album, there was an outstanding song entitled “0h Happy Day” that attracted considerable attention from broadcasters and retailers alike. The song, which was helped by a national promotional campaign unusual for Gospel music in those days, crossed from Gospel to the R&B charts. It gained further public appeal when an underground FM station in San Francisco began playing it. This led to the song finding its way on the Pop charts. Eventually, “0h Happy Day” would sell an incredible seven million copies, win Edwin Hawkins a Grammy Award in 1970 and start a new trend in Gospel music. It was in fact the pioneering effort of what we now call Contemporary Gospel.
Edwin Hawkins has recorded dozens of albums and has been nominated for ten Grammy Awards over a career that has spanned nearly four decades. In 1972, he won his second Grammy Award for “Every Man Wants To Be Free”, and the third for “Wonderful” in 1980. He is responsible for the achievement “Live With The Oakland Symphony” album in 1982 and he won his fourth Grammy Award for ”If You Love Me” In 1983.
His projects have included “Kings And Kingdoms” and “Joyful Christmas” of which all music was arranged and produced for Sony Music. He also produced “All Things Are Possible”, a high-energy 72-minute horn of plenty of Gospel ingenuity. This performance by the Edwin Hawkins Music end Arts Seminar Choir was recorded live in Toledo, Ohio, and features up and coming talent from all over the nation. In addition to producing and recording, Edwin has spent a considerable amount of time in Europe, touring several times a year.
In 1996, Edwin, always searching for fresh, new ways to promote the music he loves, teamed up with “Svart Pa Vitt”, an all-Swedish Gospel choir, on a ten-city U.S. tour to promote the album they released in late ‘95. Later on that year, he was part of “An Evening With The Boston Pops” a wonderful hour-long television special, shown on PBS, that also featured Patti LaBelle and Desiree Coleman Jackson.
Since 1996, the Father of Contemporary Gospel has remained quite busy. Edwin has recently completed his latest album entitled “Love Is The Only Way”. The project, which is Edwin’s first solo album since 1989, includes a new version of his classic hit “Oh Happy Day”. The project also includes guest appearances by Dita Jackson, Brenda Roy, cousin, Lawrence Matthews, brother, Walter Hawkins and sister, Lynette Hawkins-Stephens. In addition, Edwin continues to not only perform abroad, but organize and host his successful Music and Arts Seminar.
His remarkable career has afforded him the opportunity to travel the world and share his God-given talents Poised for the new millennium Edwin Hawkins is an individual who defines, with excellence, what Gospel music is today and where it is going tomorrow.