An 18th-century hymn done with soul

Did you know George Harrison wrote “My Sweet Lord” but that Billy Preston recorded it first in 1970?

Neither did I until I read Matthew Bolin’s fine piece, “The 10 Best Cover Songs (You Didn’t Know Were Covers)” over at Popdose earlier tonight.

Not to get all preachy on you, but as I listened, it seemed an appropriate selection for this weekend. It has a nice gospel vibe.

I’m far from knowledgeable about gospel music, and I’m not particularly reverent, but I do enjoy exploring the funk and soul aspects of gospel music.

However, the progressive but predominately white mainstream church we attend rarely explores gospel music, and when it does, it rolls out the same few songs on the same few occasions. Apparently we can dig gospel music only when Martin Luther King Jr. Day draws near. But that is another issue for another day.

Perhaps some day we’ll hear this. It’s been one of my favorites for years. It still delivers chills.

“Oh Happy Day,” the Edwin Hawkins Singers, from “Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord,” 1968. The LP is out of print, but the song is available digitally. This was recorded live in 1967 at Ephesian Church of God in Christ in Berkeley, California.

Dorothy Combs Morrison is the lead singer. She was in her early 20s at the time. The rest of the Edwin Hawkins Singers also were young, ranging from their late teens to mid-20s.

The LP originally was to be released only locally, but it got a worldwide release after “Oh Happy Day” became a smash on San Francisco radio in 1969.

Did you know “Oh Happy Day” is a reworking of an English hymn that dates to the 18th century? Neither did I. Here’s another version.

“Oh Happy Day,” Aretha Franklin with Mavis Staples, from “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism,” 1987. This LP also is out of print, but the song is available digitally. This was recorded live at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit in late July 1987.

(Curiously, my copy of this song is from “Joy To The World,” a 2006 CD that was marketed as a Christmas release. However, only half of its 10 cuts are Christmas songs. Go figure.)


Filed under April 2012, Sounds

6 responses to “An 18th-century hymn done with soul

  1. A huge fave of mine! Did you know that Dorothy Morrison went On to record a number of nice secular soul sides as well?

  2. JohnnyDiego

    Living in San Francisco from 1967-1969 I went to the various ballrooms to see and hear music nearly every weekend and a few week nights as well.
    Bill Graham’s Filmore Ballroom was just about my favorite venue. Graham wasn’t afraid to book differing musical acts on the same bill, usually three acts per night, such as the show with The Charlatans, Thelonious Monk, and Dr. John the Night Tripper in 1968 or even Albert King, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers (with Mick Taylor), The Jimmy Hendricks Experience, and Big Brother and the Holding Company all together at Winterland Garden one amazing Sunday night (admission $2.50!.)
    But one of the most eclectic line-ups was one Friday night in 1968 with Frumious Bandersnatch, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band (with Elvin Bishop), and, of course, The Edwin Hawkins Singers.
    The Singers were the first “group” to appear on the bill and the stage hands set up risers on the stage. About 20 (or maybe more, I can’t really remember) singers in their choir robes filled the stage and belted out gospel songs to the accompaniment of a single piano.
    Imagine a bunch of hippies crammed together and sitting on the floor, dope passing around, bra-less girls dancing in place, and a general swaying to a fro of the crowd and you can imagine that the Singers must have felt they were in a church of a very different denomination.
    And I suppose they were.
    Thank you for the post. It brings back many a reminiscence.

  3. Very cool stuff! I have an Aretha Gospel album, but I don’t think it’s this one. Mine was recorded in the early ’70s I think. And there’s no Mavis on it.

  4. Chris in Cary

    Hey Jeff,
    If you like that style of gospel (and who wouldn’t?), you might be interested in a show called Sinner’s Crossroads on WFMU that is all black gospel fffrom the 1945-1975 time frame. Airs live on Thursdays from 8-9 PM Eastern, can be streamed live or from the archives, and is also available via podcast at

  5. heavysoulbrutha

    Found the Edwin Hawkins “Oh Happy Day” on 45 recently. Just great!

    Peace and SOUL…

  6. Chris in Cary

    We’re singing it at my church this Sunday! 🙂

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