“Oh Happy Day” by The Edwin Hawkins Singers (ft. Dorothy Combs Morrison)
“Oh Happy Day” is verily a Christian tune, in fact dating back a couple of centuries before the Edwin Hawkins Singers released it. And even though lyrically it may not be the simplest song to memorize, overall the main idea of the wording is effectively and inarguably put across.
The song basically features the singer(s) rejoicing over the fact that she has undergone being born again, as the Christian community would say. That is, she has had her prior sins “washed… away” by Jesus. This is not a literal expression but rather points to one being accepted into the hosts of Heaven, i.e. finally being cool enough with God Himself to reside up above in the afterlife.
In the process of putting her in this state, Jesus also “taught” her how to “watch”, “fight and pray”. These expressions read like an allusion to Matthew 26:41. And in that regard what the singer is apparently saying is that now she’s going to be more vigilant in terms of preventing herself from re-falling into a life of sin.
Also as part of her newfound life and overall joy, she can’t help but to celebrate and spread the gospel. So even though this song may hold sort of a general applicability which has led to it being adopted by secular audiences due to the general feeling of happiness it presents, again it is very much Christian in nature. For even if the singer has not actually undergone the aforementioned transformation, it idealizes being personally approved by Jesus and via such approval making it into Heaven.
When did “Oh Happy Day” come out?
This song actually dates back to the 18th century, as authored by one Philip Doddridge (1702-1751), an English minister who was born in London. It was made famous to modern audiences by the Eddie Hawkins Singers when they released their rendition in 1968 via Buddah Records.
The Edwin Hawkins Singers were a gospel group fronted by musician/man-of-faith Edwin Hawkins (1943-2018). They recorded this song in in Berkeley, California, specifically at the Ephesian Church of God in Christ where Hawkins’ worshipped.
Achievements of the Song
The sound of the tune was modernized by the Edwin Hawkins Singers, largely via lead vocalist Dorothy Morrison.
Their rendition went on to become one of the most-celebrated gospel songs ever. For instance, it has been recorded, hundreds of singers and musical acts across the globe. One of the more-successful covers was by Glen Campbell, whose 1970 rendition made it onto the Billboard Hot 100.
Other famous musicians who have covered the tune include:
- Quincy Jones (1969)
- Aretha Franklin (1987)
- Club Nouveau (1992)
- Nina Simone (1969)
- Joan Boaz (1969)
- Elvis Presley (1970)
- Reba McEntire (2017)
Additionally, it served as the melodic inspiration behind George Harrison’s own religious hymn, “My Sweet Lord” (197). Also it was performed twice at Woodstock, once by Sweetwater and secondly by Joan Baez.
Moreover the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ rendition actually reached number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 2 on the UK Singles Chart. This achievement made it the first crossover-gospel hit of the modern era.
It also took home a Grammy Award in 1970 in the category of Best Soul Gospel Performance. And as you, the reader, probably already know, it has maintained a strong presence in pop media. For example, it has been featured on movies such as:
- Sister Act 2 (1993)
- Bruce Almighty (2003)
- License to Wed (2007)
- BlacKkKlansman (2018)
And all of this for a song which originally Edwin Hawkins and his crew didn’t really think much of and that sort of became famous by accident.
Additionally it should be noted, as perhaps to be expected, “Oh, Happy Day” being embraced by the overall, secular world didn’t really sit well with some church leaders, including a few belonging to Hawkins’ own denomination.
Performance on the Charts
In terms of chart showing, the original version of this track made it onto the top five of these charts:
- Billboard Hot 100
- Cash Box Top 700
- UK Singles Chart
It also proved to be a chart topper in France, Germany and Switzerland.