Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Favorite Songs (May 2013)

Haven't done this in a LONG while, so why wait? Here's another favorite song of mine …

The song that transformed gospel music is actually based on an 18th century hymn (and only part of one, at that). Hawkins, who formed a Frisco Bay ensemble with the best voices in that area, gave the hymn the distinctive music and arrangement that would take it to international fame and a Grammy Award. Small wonder when you give it a listen, especially when the smooth opening words give way to the electrifying chorus that rings out, “He taught me how to watch ...” The song, which quickly became a gospel standard, has been covered by numerous artists, and was featured in a number of films, including Sister Act 2 and Secretariat.

It's particularly interesting that the song, part of a privately released album, got repeated airplay on the Bay Area's underground FM stations. In time, mainstream stations picked up the album and the song. From there, “Oh Happy Day” would reach No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 2 in the UK, selling 7 million copies. While that song would prove to be the peak of the group's commercial success, they would go on to earn three more Grammy Awards. The lead singer on the song, Dorothy Combs Morrison, would quickly go on to a solo career. Her debut single released later that year, “All God's Children Got Soul,” just made it into the Hot 100, but Morrison's performance of the song was immortalized in the concert film Celebration at Big Sur.

It wouldn't be the first time a Christian song was a major pop hit; Elvis took “Crying in the Chapel” into the Top 10 four years earlier. But it's still astounding that a song that proclaimed "oh happy day/when Jesus washed my sins away” got such monstrous airplay at that time, putting Jesus' salvation message in front of millions around the world.

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