FREMONT (KPIX 5) — For a second night in a row, noted Grammy-winning gospel singers took the stage at a Fremont church Wednesday evening to pay tribute to the late Oakland gospel giant Edwin Hawkins.
On Tuesday, the first night of the two-night “Celebration of Life” held at Harbor Light Church in Fremont drew a capacity crowd along with thousands who watched a livestream of the three-hour program on the CBS SF website and Facebook.
“You know, it’s really about honoring a man who made a contribution to the world and to gospel and us all getting together and loving on one another, because we miss him so much,” memorial service organizer and Faith in the Bay founder Denisha Delane said Tuesday.
Once again, Grammy-Award winning gospel artist Donald Lawrence served as the musical director, accompanied by longtime Hawkins band leader Derrick Hall.
Among the gospel luminaries paying tribute to Hawkins on Wednesday night were Lillian Lloyd, B. Slade, Bebe Winans, Donnie McClurkin Beverly Crawford and Anita Wilson.
An 80-voice combined choir covered the Edwin Hawkins catalog of music, highlighting his 50+ years of music. The celebration also featured a special reunion of the Original Edwin Hawkins Singers performing onstage together.
Along with Andrae Crouch, James Cleveland and a handful of others, Hawkins was credited as a founder of modern gospel music.
Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke and numerous other singers had become mainstream stars by adapting gospel sounds to pop lyrics. Hawkins stood out for enjoying commercial success while still performing music that openly celebrated religious faith.
Hawkins, who co-founded the Northern California State Youth Choir at Ephesian Church of God in Christ in Berkeley, first recorded “Oh Happy Day” as part of an 8-song, self-produced album to help finance his group’s trip to a music competition. Bay Area radio stations began playing the song — a soulful, call-and-response arrangement of an 18th century hymn — and it became a local music phenomenon.
Hawkins died at his Pleasanton home last month after a battle with cancer. He was 74 years old.
Shortly after his death, “Oh Happy Day” charted at #1 on Billboard Magazine’s Gospel Digital Song Sales chart for the week ending January 27, 2018. The classic song had a 999% sales increase following worldwide news coverage of Hawkins’ and it also amassed over 173,000 streams during the same period.