O Happy Day

I will expose a little bit of my own youthful ignorance of traditional church music, but I have to share this with my peers: Edwin Hawkins did not purely invent his song, “O Happy Day.” No, there is nothing new under the sun!
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I have sung this song for as long as I can remember. It has been a huge part of New City’s musical history as well as my father’s. He even tells his audiences that it was this song that changed his life completely one day back when he was in college. He was listening to a secular rock station on the radio when “O Happy Day” came on. At that time there was no such thing as “Contemporary Christian Music,” so to hear a song about Jesus on the radio during the ‘Age of Aquarius’ was enough to blow his mind completely and start him on a path of Christian performance music, African-American cultural appreciation, and Multi-cultural worship music.
Fast forward to today when I was working on “O Happy Day” for this week’s service. I did an arrangement for our church to be able to have vocal parts and a structured form on the page, and so I when on CCLI’s website to find the copyright info. When I got there I found that there was about 10 different “O Happy Day” songs and they all had somewhat similar lyrics to the Edwin Hawkins song that I know. Not only that, but all of these had different composers credited, but none of them were Hawkins. This could only mean one thing: Hawkins did not write this song; rather it was a public domain hymn.
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Sure enough, when I went to Cyber Hymnal and looked up, “O Happy Day, That Fixed My Choice” there is a song there with a bunch of verses by Philip Doddridge (pictured above) and an anonymously written refrain that has almost the exact words as the Hawkins song and a general melodic similarity that Hawkins injected with some sweet soul. The original was first published in 1854.
So, Indelible Grace and your merry band of hymn tune composers, where are the Edwin Hawkins-es of our generation?

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