Bay Area gospel legend remembered for his musical genius

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Oakland's Edwin Hawkins took gospel music global. He came from humble beginnings, recording his hit "Oh Happy Day" at a church in Berkeley. He passed away Monday at age 74 from pancreatic cancer. (KGO-TV)

Oakland's Edwin Hawkins took gospel music global. He came from humble beginnings, recording his hit "Oh Happy Day" at a church in Berkeley. He passed away Monday at age 74 from pancreatic cancer.

"They had on Youtube this 12-year-old kid from Brazil singing 'Oh Happy Day,'" Hawkins' nephew Pastor Walter Jamie Hawkins said. "Somebody took the record and the night people heard it, and before you know it these kids in Berkeley are sensations -- and you saw them on the Ed Sullivan show."

Hawkins died Monday at the age of 74 from pancreatic cancer.

Jamie, notes the music. "First thing -- he was a genius. Listening to his catalog and all the music that he made way before his time," he said.

Hawkins is known for blending gospel hymns with modern sounds.

"Oh Happy Day" hit the big screen in "Sister Act 2" and Hawkins traveled the world performing gospel music but the four-time Grammy winner always brought it back to the Bay Area.

ABC 7 interviewed Hawkins as he produced a song for World Environment Day. In a packed studio he sang with other famous gospel artists.

"I had part of a melody, but the lyrics just didn't seem to flow," said Hawkins. "They do now," said the reporter assertively, to which Hawkins laughed, "It seems to work now."

East Bay Congresswoman Barbara Lee was a longtime friend. She recalls Hawkins' immense kindness.

"He was just a person who cared about people and that was from day one when I met him," said Barbara Lee. "He never changed."

Hawkins performed as recently as December and was working on new recordings when he died.

"He never stopped. He loved to do music. He loved to glorify God with his gift," said Jamie Hawkins.

Hawkins is survived by his siblings Carol, Feddie, Daniel, and Lynette.
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