December 2, 2012


When He Washed My Sins Away (MARC MYERS, 11/26/12, WSJ)

Mr. Hawkins: In 1968, I hired Century Records, a local vanity label, to record an album of songs by the choir. My plan was to order 500 copies and have members sell them for about $5 each to raise money for our church.

One of the eight songs I wrote and arranged for the album was "Oh Happy Day," based on "O Happy Day, That Fixed My Choice"-- a formal 18th-century hymn with a lovely, simple message. A year earlier I had updated the hymn with new chord voicings and a gospel feel. One of my influences at the time was pianist Sergio Mendes. I liked how he alternated between major and minor keys and created rhythmic patterns on the keyboard. My piano intro was along those lines. Our recording was made at the Ephesian Church during the summer of 1968. I chose Dorothy Morrison, one of our most experienced vocalists, to sing the lead.

Ms. Morrison: Edwin asked me to have the lyrics memorized by the recording date. But it wasn't until the drive over with my husband at the time that I began to commit them to memory. The lyrics were simple and they rhymed, but they were a lot to remember.

At the church, I wrote two sections on my palms with a pen. The third section I memorized. During the recording, I put up my hands, with my palms facing me. Everyone thought I was feeling the spirit. I was--but I also was reading the lyrics [laughs].

I ad-libbed on "When Jesus washed, oh, when he washed, my sins away." And I threw in a James Brown "good God" toward the end, which made the song feel even more current.

Mr. Hawkins: Our album--"Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord"--was ready a few weeks later. I gave 10 copies to each choir member to sell for the church. I was sure that "Joy, Joy!" or "To My Father's House" was going to be the song that would sell the album.
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Posted by at December 2, 2012 12:53 AM

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