Hawkins, who was best known for the 1969 hit “Oh Happy Day,” passed away at his home in Pleasanton, California, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Hawkins’ publicist, Bill Carpenter, confirmed that the musician had died from pancreatic cancer.
“Oh, Happy Day” was a top 10 hit on the pop charts, skyrocketing the Edwin Hawkins Singers to international fame.
“It was recorded on a friend’s little two-track machine,” Hawkins explained to The Modesto Bee in 2008. “It was never intended for commercial purposes at all.”
The song became a million-seller in 1969 and grew into a crossover hit, with singers like Elvis Presley, Johnny Mathis and Glen Campbell singing their own versions of the tune.
“I think our music was probably a blend and a crossover of everything that I was hearing during that time,” Hawkins told blackmusic.com in 2015. “We grew up hearing all kinds of music in our home. My mother, who was a devout Christian, loved the Lord and displayed that in her lifestyle.”
“My father was not a committed Christian at that time but was what you’d call a good man,” he said. “And, of course, we heard from him some R&B music but also a lot of Country and Western when we were younger kids.”
In 1970, the song earned Hawkins the Grammy for Best Soul Gospel Performance. He would proceed to win three additional awards from the Recording Academy over the course of his prolific career, earning accolades for the group’s songs “Every Man Wants to Be Free” (1971) and “Wonderful!” (1978) and a live album, “Edwin Hawkins Music & Arts Seminar Mass Choir” (1993).