From Our Soundbooth | October 17, 2019

We are so excited to share with you the 2019 Miller Audio Prize Runner-Up in Audio Documentary: “The Story of the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ ‘Oh Happy Day,’” by Alex Lewis, selected by 2019 Guest Judge Cher Vincent. The Miller Audio Prize is a Spring contest that awards winners in the four genres of poetry, prose, humor, and audio documentary.

About “The Story of the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ ‘Oh Happy Day’”:

Edwin Hawkins, a Grammy Award-winning gospel singer and arranger, passed away in 2018 at the age of 74. He left behind an unmatched legacy, revolutionizing what it means to be a gospel artist. His crowning achievement was bringing his arrangement of “Oh Happy Day,” originally an 18th Century hymn, to wide audiences. The song debuted 50 years ago in 1968 and became the first gospel song to hit the secular charts.

Hawkins’ use of contemporary sounds — a Latin groove, synthesizers, a soul-influenced lead vocal performance — created a new model for gospel music. It opened the door for artists like Aretha Franklin, The Winans and Richard Smallwood to bring the Good News into the secular realm. “Oh Happy Day” has become a gospel standard. It’s been covered by hundreds of artists across genres.

This piece brings together music, archival sounds – including interviews with Edwin Hawkins and radio air checks from the late 1960s and early 1970s – with interviews I recorded last year to highlight the history and legacy of this monumental moment in American music history.

I wrote and produced this audio documentary as part of WXPN’s Gospel Roots of Rock & Soul project. You can listen to the full documentary series hosted by CeCe Winans at xpngospelroots.org.

Listen to “The Story of the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ ‘Oh Happy Day,’” below:

Alex Lewis is a Philadelphia-based independent radio producer and musician. He produces radio stories, audio documentaries, podcasts, & public radio programs.

He’s written and produced longform audio documentaries including Saturday Night & Sunday Morning: The Gospel Roots of Rock & Soul – with WXPN and NPR Music – and Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio (winner of a 2015 National Edward R. Murrow Award). He also produces The Dig, a podcast from Jacobin Magazine.

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