Multi-talented multi-Grammy award winner Edwin Hawkins 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 in 1969, “Oh Happy Day.” He and his brother Bishop Walter Hawkins are the founders of the Edwin Hawkins & Walter Hawkins Music and Arts Love Fellowship Conference, now in its Thirty-Third year.
The Music and Arts Love Fellowship Conference is an annual convention that offers workshops geared toward music and arts. There are classes on Song Writing, Keyboard Techniques, Gospel Music Ministry, Choir Decorum, Fashion Design, the Business of Gospel Music, Vocal Techniques, Dance and Drama. The conference culminates the week long activities with a Mass Choir live recording.
Edwin explained how it all started. “In my travels, I meet many talented young folks whose only outlet is 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 able to teach this diverse perspective of music and arts. Happily, it has resulted in a nation and international interest in music and arts.”
Edwin Hawkins grew up in a musical family, and with the encouragement of his parents Mamie and Dan Lee Hawkins, he pursue his musical passion. He began singing in youth choirs at a very early age, and discovered he had a God-given ability to play the piano at the age of five years old. When he was seven years old, he began playing full time for the Hawkins family group and they 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, and in 1968, Edwin and Ms. Watson recorded “Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord.” When this album was released later that year, there was something distinctly different about it. The style of Gospel music at that time, featured traditional sounding choirs and vocalists. However, this album had more of an R&B sound, and was different from anything previously recorded in Gospel.
On the album, there was an outstanding song entitled “Oh Happy Day” that attracted considerable attention from broadcasters and retailers alike. The song, which was helped by a national promotional campaign, something 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 to play it. This led to the song finding its way on the Pop charts. Eventually, “Oh Happy Day” would sell an incredible seven million copies, and gained Edwin Hawkins a Grammy Award in 1970. It started a new trend in Gospel music, and, 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 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 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-minutes “horn of plenty” Gospel ingenuity. This performance by the Edwin Hawkins Music end Arts Seminar Choir was recorded live in Toledo, Ohio, and featured up and coming talent from all over the nation. In addition to producing and recording, Edwin has spent a considerable amount of time touring in Europe.
In 1996, Edwin, who is 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 1995. Later on that year, he was a guest on the PBS television special “An Evening With The Boston Pops,” that also featured Patti LaBelle and Desiree Coleman Jackson.
Since 1996, Edwin, who is affectionately know as the Father of Contemporary Gospel has remained quite busy. He completed his latest album entitled “Love Is The Only Way”. The project, which is his first solo album since 1989, includes a new version of his classic hit “Oh Happy Day”. This project also includes guest appearances by Dita Jackson, Brenda Roy, Lawrence Matthew (his cousin), Bishop Walter Hawkins (his brother) and Lynette Hawkins-Stephens (his sister). In addition to recording, Edwin continues to perform abroad, and organize and host his successful Music and Arts Conference.
His remarkable career has afforded him the opportunity to travel the world and share his God-given gifts and talents. He is poised and ready for what the new millennium will bring. Edwin Hawkins is an individual who defines with excellence what Gospel music is today, and where it is going tomorrow.