Chancellor of Soul's Chronicles-Journals Dedicated To The
Historical Preservation Of R&B, Pop and It's Artists and Music


 

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Oh Happy Day

 (The Most Controversial Song of 1969?)

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1969, the last year of the great decade engraved many impressions, stamped into
the hallways of our mind. In the 60’s, R&B would bring the world to its knees proclaiming
‘soul’ as king to the music throne. Gospel played a pivotal connection in the development of R&B music and generate a spiritual union in the black community. One beautiful composition would galvanize a community of music lovers from all walks of life and a resurgence to their church roots.


The incomparable...’Oh Happy Day’.


In May 1967, Edwin Hawkins, born 1943 in Oakland, California and his associate Betty
Watson, organized a 46 piece gospel choir to represent their church in Oakland,  ‘The Ephesian Church of God in Christ’. Edwin needed to raise funds for a trip to sing at a
convention given at the National Youth Congress,  in Cleveland. The choir recorded an LP of 8 songs including the 18th century fiery gospel composition, ‘Oh Happy Day’ in the basement of the Berkeley Church of Christ in San Francisco. Recorded on a old two-track ampex tape machine, the album entitled ‘Let Us Go  Into The House Of The Lord’ went on to sell 600 copies.


Two years later in 1969, a rock promoter in San Francisco, John Lingel, happened to find the LP in a stack of gospel records in an old warehouse. He gave the album to a popular
disc jockey Abe ’Voco’ Kesh of KSAN radio.


Abe fell in love with ‘Oh Happy Day’ and featured it on his program. Listeners lid up the switchboards asking where to buy the song. A promoter of Buddah Records happened
to be in San Francisco, listened to the show and made a deal to purchase the LP from Abe. Pavilion (distributed by Buddah  Records) released ‘Oh Happy Day’ b/w ‘Jesus, Lover of My Soul’ in the spring of 1969 as a single.


The song charted No. 2 on Billboard's R&B singles chart the week ending Sat June 7, 1969. 'Oh Happy Day’ crossover to the No. 4 position on the Pop singles chart, Sat May 31, 1969, becoming the first successful gospel standard in music history to sell over 7 million copies worldwide! It won a Grammy for Best Gospel Soul Group.


The LP ‘Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord’ picked up by Buddah for national distribution, charted No 5 on the R&B  LP charts on June 14, 1969. Dorothy Morrison was featured as the legendary soloist on ‘Oh Happy Day’. Other great soloists on the album include, Elaine Kelly (‘To My Father’s House) Margarette Branch (‘I’m Going Through’) Betty Watson (‘Early In The Morning’). Trio- Trumaine Davis, Rueben Franklin, Donald Cashmere (‘I Heard The Voice Of Jesus’) and duet-Trumaine Davis and Ruth Lyons (‘Joy, Joy’). Dorothy Morrison went on to prominence as a solo artist in the late 60’s thru the 70’s.


Controversy flared when dee jays were in a difficult decision on what category to place the song on their program because of its sacred message. Considering the sensitivity and response of the black community, radio programmers felt that the record collectively would swing back the spirituality of the listeners and bring reclamation of togetherness in the community.  The gospel disk was then categorized as R&B/ Pop on the play list.


Edwin Hawkins felt that popularity not tradition should decide the extend of airplay. His intent was to create a mod gospel sound that featured a positive message to a wider audience and still retain the traditional gospel fervor among listeners.


More controversy ignited when Buddah Records was involved in a New York Supreme Court case against ABC’s subsidiary label Dunhill because of unfair competition with another gospel group the Southern Indenominational California Youth Choir, who simultaneously released a version of ‘Oh Happy Day’ that spring. Formerly known as the Northern California State Youth Choir on the Buluu label, the Buddah group rechristened
their name as the Edwin Hawkins Singers. The case was settled.


The song’s success has been answered with encore issues by such acts as the American Rock Revival on Bell Records, the Pat Rebillot Exchange on Silver Fox, the Trumpets of Jericho on Hob and the Billy Mitchell Trio on Calla Records.


The Edwin Hawkins Singers contribute background to Melanie's 1970 biographical Woodstock hit, 'Lay Down  (Candles In The Rain)' but faded into obscurity after  constant personnel changes within the group.


The legacy of ‘Oh Happy Day’ continued to live through years of vinyl/ CD reissues and compilations and has been featured in the 1993 movie, ‘Sister Act 2’ starring Whoopi Goldberg and singer Lauren Hill. It also opened the doors for gospel acts like Kirk Franklin to combine hip hop to gospel, creating a new wave of listeners in the millennium of the 21 century.


‘Oh Happy Day’ broke the barriers of category where its message overpowered decisions made in the music industry to showcase it as a separate identity but to  replenish our inner spirit with nutrients of wisdom and be free of mental impurities brought on by worldly contaminations of war, poverty, and violence.

Like God's creation of the birds and the bees

Jesus is truly the lover of my soul forever !





                                                    Soulfully Yours,

                                                       Mike Boone

                                                  (Chancellor of Soul)





                                                      (May 2007)







Materials should not be used or altered without the expressed permission of the author, Mike Boone,

Chancellor of Soul


 

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