Friday Night Forgotten Oldie: “When Jesus washed, He washed my sins away”

Everyone has their musical favorites given art’s subjectivity.

For example, I’m no fan of 80’s or 90’s music. But 60’s or 70’s? Totally different story.

Consider 1969, an incredible year for pop music.

Here are all the artists who had #1 hits on the Billboard chart that year:

Marvin Gaye

Tommy James and the Shondells

Sly and the Family Stone

Tommy Roe

The Fifth Dimension

The Beatles with Billy Preston

Henry Mancini

Zager and Evans

The Rolling Stones

The Archies

The Temptations

Elvis Presley

The Fifth Dimension

The Beatles

Steam

Peter, Paul and Mary

Diana Ross and the Supremes

The diversity is remarkable. You had to be something special to reach #1.

Now look at the Top Ten of the Billboard chart from June 7, 1969:

1 Get Back, The Beatles With Billy Preston

2 Love (Can Make You Happy), Mercy

3 Grazing In The Grass, The Friends of Distinction

5 Bad Moon Rising,  Creedence Clearwater Revival

6 In The Ghetto, Elvis Presley

7 Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In, The Fifth Dimension

8 Love Theme From Romeo & Juliet, Henry Mancini and His Orchestra

9 These Eyes, The Guess Who

10 Too Busy Thinking About My Baby, Marvin Gaye

Take another look. Missing is the #4 pick.

Oh Happy Day, Edwin Hawkins Singers

Hawkins died of pancreatic cancer on Martin Luther King Day. He was 74.

Hawkins accidentally crashed into the Top Ten with an enormous Gospel recording.

In the late 60’s Hawkins was studying interior design in Oakland, California. At the same time he and a friend were working with a youth choir that released a local album. The group had hopes of selling enough copies to fund a trip to Southern California to participate in a Gospel competition.

The album was anything but state of the art, recorded on a friend’s small two-track machine according to Hawkins. There were no thoughts of going commercial.

One of the tracks caught the attention of a disc jockey at the Bay Area FM station KSAN, Abe Kesh.

As Kesh continued to play “Oh Happy Day” on the air it became more and more popular.

With Dorothy Combs Morrison providing the lead vocal the single sold seven million copies and won a Grammy for best soul gospel performance.

Oh happy day (oh happy day)
Oh happy day (oh happy day)
When Jesus washed (when Jesus washed)
Oh, when he washed (when Jesus washed)
When Jesus washed (when Jesus washed)
He washed my sins away (oh happy day)
Oh happy day (oh happy day)

Oh, it’s a happy day

He taught me how to watch, fight and pray, fight and pray

And live rejoicing every, everyday

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BONUS

Legendary jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis covered “Oh Happy Day” in a 2005 album, “With One Voice.”

The live album was recorded at the J.W. James Memorial A.M.E. Church in Maywood, Illinois, where the Rev. Lucille L. Jackson, Ramsey Lewis’ sister was the the co-pastor. She passed away in 2013.

More than 50 members of the J.W. James Memorial A.M.E. Church Combined Choir are featured on the album, including “Oh Happy Day.”

“That’s one of my favorites,” said Lewis. “When that record came out, the Edwin Hawkins Singers, I probably wore out–it was on an LP, of course, so I probably wore out two or three of those, and I always wanted to play it, even in person, but I couldn’t come up with a way to do it without the voices. And so now we have this version, of course, with my church choir, that is the church I belong to.”

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