Oh Happy Day

Album: Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord (1968)
Charted: 2 4
Play Video


  • Marvin Gaye's "Can I Get A Witness" and The Impressions' "People Get Ready" are among the songs with a gospel feel that made the pop charts in the '60s, but "Oh Happy Day" was the first pure gospel to cross over. Recorded in a church with a choir and church musicians, it is based on "Oh Happy Day, That Fixed My Choice," a Protestant hymn that dates from 1755 and is included in the standard Baptist hymnal.
  • Edwin Hawkins was a pianist at Ephesian Church of God in Christ in Berkeley, California when he came up with the popular Latin/soul version of this song that he recorded there in the summer of 1968. In an October 23, 2009 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, he explained that "Oh Happy Day" was one of eight arrangements he put together for his Northern California State Youth Choir, which was made up of 46 singers ages 17 to 25, and the plan was to sell an album of the songs to finance a trip to a church youth conference in Washington, D.C.

    The tracks were quickly recorded live in church on a two-track tape machine (industry standard at the time was eight-track), but the records weren't pressed in time for the trip. They did attend the conference, and the choir placed second in a singing competition, where they performed two of Hawkins' arrangements, but not "Oh Happy Day," which Hawkins said was "not our favorite song."

    Five hundred copies of the album were made, and one of them found its way to the popular DJ Abe "Voco" Kesh at KSAN-FM in San Francisco, who put it in rotation. Other stations followed, and Buddah Records signed Hawkins to a record deal, putting the album and the "Oh Happy Day" album in wide release.
  • The female lead is Dorothy Morrison, who had been singing at her church in Richmond, California when she joined Hawkins' choir. She also sang at some local R&B clubs, but kept that quiet because the church frowned on such activity. When "Oh Happy Day" became a hit, she signed her own deal with Buddah Records, which issued her album Brand New Day in 1970. Her solo career didn't last, but she became a popular backup singer, appearing on albums by Chicago, Boz Scaggs and Simon & Garfunkel. She later sang in a group called The Blues Broads.
  • This song was recorded for the gospel market, and its secular success didn't go over well with everyone at the church. Local officials of the denomination circulated a petition asking secular radio stations to stop airing the song and wouldn't let Hawkins use the name of the choir. Buddah Records responded by rechristening the Northern California State Youth Choir "The Edwin Hawkins Singers."

    Hawkins felt the church was misguided. He told The Chronicle: "I think they thought they were doing the right thing. What confused me about it was they were teaching us all our lives that we were to take the message everywhere."

    At this time, church officials all over the country often discouraged congregation members from performing outside the church. The Chambers Brothers are among the acts that faced similar resistance when they began performing for a secular audience.
  • The song is an expression of joy and worship for Jesus, but it connects with a wider audience. "Audience reactions are always strong," Dorothy Morrison said. "People want to have a happy day, and that song helps them do it."
  • The hymn this is based on has four verses, starting with:

    O happy day that fixed my choice
    On Thee, my Savior and my God
    Well may this glowing heart rejoice
    And tell its raptures all abroad

    The Edwin Hawkins arrangement strips the verses down to:

    Oh Happy Day
    When Jesus Washed
    My Sins Away

    The choir comes in for the chorus, offering more praise. Then, unlike the hymn, the first verse repeats, then does so again with Dorothy Morrison interjecting over the choir. She ad-libbed most of it, including a part near the end where she shouts, "good God" (which she got from listening to James Brown), but some of the lyrics she wrote down, just not on paper.

    "The lyrics were simple and they rhymed, but they were a lot to remember," she said in Anatomy of a Song. "At the church I wrote two sections on my palms with a pen. The third section I memorized. During the recording, I put up my hands, with my palms facing me. Everyone thought I was feeling the spirit. I was - but I also was reading the lyrics."
  • Glen Campbell's cover version reached #40 in 1970. Other artists to cover it include The Statler Brothers, Etta James and Bobby Womack.

    Two of the mightiest voices in music joined forces when Aretha Franklin and Mavis Staples recorded it for Franklin's 1987 gospel album, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism.
  • This is showstopper in the 1993 movie Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. It appeared in these films as well:

    Roadside Prophets (1992)
    Big Momma's House (2000)
    Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (2000)
    The New Guy (2002)
    Bruce Almighty (2003)
    Secretariat (2010)
    Parental Guidance (2012)
    Madea's Witness Protection (2012)

    There was also a 2004 movie called Oh Happy Day that used the song.

    TV series to use it include Six Feet Under, Queer as Folk, House, Big Love, 90210 and The Good Wife.
  • This won a Grammy Award for Best Soul Gospel Performance.
  • The music of the Brazilian musician Sergio Mendes was an influence on Hawkins' arrangement. "I liked how he alternated between major and minor keys and created rhythmic patterns on the keyboard," he explained in Anatomy of a Song. "My piano intro was along those lines."
  • The song reached #22 on the Adult Contemporary chart and reached #2 R&B, held off the top spot by Marvin Gaye's "Too Busy Thinking About My Baby."
  • In America, the song entered the Hot 100 on April 26, 1969 and peaked at #4 on May 31. The UK wasn't far behind; on their official chart, it placed at #39 on May 27 and climbed to #2 on June 24, where it stayed for two weeks.
  • The Edwin Hawkins Singers reached #101 in 1969 with "Ain't It Like Him (That's Just Like Jesus)" and #109 with a cover of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind." They had a much bigger chart impact backing another Buddah artist, Melanie, on her 1970 track "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)," which reached #6.
  • This is the song that George Harrison claimed gave him the idea for "My Sweet Lord," not The Chiffons' "He's So Fine," which he was sued over. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Jeff - Boston, MA
  • Dan Sorkin, who was a popular DJ on radio station KSFO in San Francisco, was a big supporter of this song and gave it a huge push on his morning show. He even interviewed Dorothy Morrison and Edwin Hawkins on the air.
  • Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds incorporated parts of this in live performances of their 1988 song "Deanna."
  • The song was performed twice at the first day of Woodstock, first by Sweetwater, which was the second act to go on, then by Joan Baez, who was the last performer of the day. Baez released her version on her 1971 album Carry It On.

Comments: 19

  • Bro Dee from Gwinnett GaOh happy days . I remember that song when I was young . I was not a Christian then . But that song always got into my spirit. An still does , even more so that I am a man of GOD NOW!!
  • Lynn Olander from Oakland, CaLet's take the gospel EVERYWHERE! Let this song be our anthem and our inspiration as we enter the year 2021!
  • Sheila from Pocomoke City, MdI really admired this awesome man of God. This song really inspired us as Black Americans, to let nothing hinder us to achieve, when put Jesus Christ first in our lives. Edwin will be missed. O HAPPY DAY!
  • Dan from IowaIn the quote by Edwin Hawkins (above), he says: "...they were teaching us all our lives that we were to take the message everywhere." Take the Message Everywhere is the title of Andraé Crouch & The Disciples' debut album, which was released the same year as the "Edwin Hawkins Singers" debut (containing "Oh Happy Day"). Both Hawkins and Crouch grew up in the Church of God in Christ denomination in southern California and were choir directors in their respective churches.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyPer: http://www.oldiesmusic.com/news.htm {01-15-2018}...
    Edwin Hawkins, leader of the gospel Edwin Hawkins Singers of "Oh Happy Day" fame (#4 in 1969), died Monday (January 15th, 2018) at his home in Pleasanton, California at the age of 74...
    He had been suffering from pancreatic cancer...
    Born in Oakland, he sang in church and family choirs before founding the 46-member Northern California State Youth Choir of the Church of God in Christ. They were renamed the Edwin Hawkins Singers when an album was recorded for Pavillion Records. The group also backed up Melanie on her #6 hit in 1970, "Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)"...
    Edwin was elected to the Christian Music Hall of Fame in 2007...
    May he R.I.P.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn April 20th 1969, "Oh! Happy Day" by the Edwin Hawkins Singers featuring Dorothy Morrison entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #72; and on May 25th it peaked at #4 (for 2 weeks) and spent 10 weeks on the Top 100...
    It was the group's only charted record, but Dorothy Morrison had two solo records make the Top 100; "All God's Children Got Soul" (#95 in 1969) and "Spirit In The Sky" (#99 in 1970)...
    Edwin Hawkins will celebrate his 71st birthday this coming August 18th and Ms. Morrison turns 70 years old next month on May 8th.
  • Maggie from Hobart, InForgot to mention... No horse was as fast in speed as Secretriat was back then when he won the Triple Crown in 1973.
  • Maggie from Hobart, InWhat an uplifting song. This song was featured in the movie "Secretariat" about a horse that won the Triple Crown Winner in 1973 despite everyone's belief. WOW... but he did it and no horse has done it since then. They played this song at the end of the movie while they ran the credits, and by that time, you already felt GREAT and Overwhelmed!!! Which is what this song "Oh Happy Day" makes you feel like!! Like the movie, no Gospel song has become so popular and a such a big hit since!!!! I remember this song when I was little. I love this song.. put on RINGTONE!!
  • Camille from Toronto, OhThis is an incredibly spiritually song sung by amazing singers. Dorothy Morrison's earthy, sultry voice declaring Jesus had washed her sins away could convince the soul of a dead man to live again. I have this on my ipod and it sounds incredible. The fact that this became a pop hit is fabulous.
  • Scott from Berkeley, CaMy family got the album when I was 10 years old. I instantly loved it and do until this day. I searched on line but could never find the exact version so I converted it so I could listen on my ipod. Reading above that only 300 copies of the album were sold makes me feel even more special to own this wonderful song. O Happy Day !
  • Kristin from Bessemer, AlThe groups lead soloist, Dorothy Combs Morrison, went on to have a solo career, and managed to score a single on the Billboard Hot 100 with "All God's Children Got Soul".
  • Andrew from London, EnglandThe line is "watch and pray" not wash and pray, a command given by Jesus to his disciples before his death. The other line "he taught me how to live and rejoice" should read "and live re-joicing everyday everyday!" but sung "and live re-joic-ing ev-reeday:everyday!"
  • Asef from Silkeborg, Denmarkon august the 13 1992 I gave my life to Jesus and He changed my life totally. since that time life had a meaning when He washed my sins away
  • John-martin from Silver Creek, MsHere's a little bit of info foryou....The Mighty Clouds of Joy repeated that gospel/pop feat after The Edwin Hawkin Singers in 1976. "Mighty High" was a gosepl #1 Billboard hit, a Billboard pop hit and it also hit #1 on Billboard's dance charts (5 week run at #1). "Oh Happy Day" is so uplifting and it's one of those feel-good songs that leaves you happy and makes all depression vanish - if only for a minute.
  • Howard from St. Louis Park, MnWhat an uplifting song by The Edwin Hawkins Singers.
  • Paul from Glasgow, ScotlandThere is an irreverent cover version of this on the Spiritualized 'Live at the Albert Hall' album (think Jimi Hendrix' version of the Star Spangled Banner)featuring the London Community Gospel Choir.
  • Clarke from Pittsburgh, PaThe Edwin Hawkins Singers can also be heard on another hit from one year later, as the backup vocalists on Melanie (Safka)'s "Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)."
  • Lorne from Toronto, CanadaIn Sister Act 2 Lauryn Hill leads the rest of the choir with this song. It was pretty good they gave it a modren twist.
  • Adam from Jupiter, FlWasn't this song performed by the kids in the cast of Sister Act II?
see more comments

Editor's Picks


QueenFact or Fiction

Scaramouch, a hoople and a superhero soundtrack - see if you can spot the real Queen stories.

Chris Rea

Chris ReaSongwriter Interviews

It took him seven years to recover from his American hit "Fool (If You Think It's Over)," but Chris Rea became one of the top singer-songwriters in his native UK.

Petula Clark

Petula ClarkSongwriter Interviews

Petula talks about her hits "Downtown" and "Don't Sleep In The Subway," and explains her Michael Jackson connection.

Music Video Director David Hogan

Music Video Director David HoganSong Writing

David talks about videos he made for Prince, Alabama, Big & Rich, Sheryl Crow, DMB, Melissa Etheridge and Sisters of Mercy.

Bands Named After Real People (Who Aren't In The Band)

Bands Named After Real People (Who Aren't In The Band)Song Writing

How a gym teacher, a janitor, and a junkie became part of some very famous band names.

Joe Elliott of Def Leppard

Joe Elliott of Def LeppardSongwriter Interviews

The Def Leppard frontman talks about their "lamentable" hit he never thought of as a single, and why he's juiced by his Mott The Hoople cover band.