Dr. Nathan Smith, a founding member of the Arcata Interfaith Gospel Choir in 1992, and Edwin Hawkins, one of the founders of modern gospel music, have both died recently. The AIGC morns the loss of both of these great men.
Edwin Hawkins, the gospel star best known for the hit song “Oh Happy Day” and a major force in contemporary gospel music, died of pancreatic cancer at age 74 on January 15, 2018. Along with Andrae Crouch, James Cleveland and a handful of others, Hawkins was credited as a founder of modern gospel music.
“He was an institution,” said Linda Tillery, a San Francisco singer and songwriter who won a Bay Area Music Award in 1977. The Hawkins Singers “were a dynasty, no two ways about it. Every time they'd show up they would just wipe out the room.”
Edwin Hawkins remained active in gospel music all his life, joining 400 gospel singers from around the world (including 45 from AIGC) in April 2017 at the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir International Interfaith Gospel Music Conference .
The AIGC sings two songs by Edwin Hawkins, Oh Happy Day and Always There. Edwin Hawkins wrote Always There for the OIGC conference and taught the song to the conference attendees.
“He was the classiest, best dressed, best smelling, most smooth man I've ever met,” said Terrance Kelly, the artistic director for the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, who admitted to getting tongue tied around Hawkins, whom he idolized. “He was awesome, all the way around.”
On November 16, 2017, Nathan Smith passed at 91-years-old while surrounded by his family and loved ones at Stanford University Hospital. Smith and his family are well-known in the local community–where his daughter in particular, Liz Smith, has occupied various leadership roles.
Dr. Smith served 17 years in the United States Air Force, during which he earned a Bachelors degree and Masters degree. Smith served in WW II, the Korean War and the Viet Nam War. After being discharged from the Air Force, Nathan earned his Doctorate degree and was a professor at both the University of Minnesota (1972-1985) and Humboldt State University (1986-2001).
Nathan participated in various choir activities ranging from his time singing with the Eureka Presbyterian Church Choir, the Arcata Interfaith Gospel Choir, the Ferndale Community Choir, and the Humboldt Harmoniers.
Nathan was the creator of the program known as the "Power of Song" which he performed many times with the help of HSU colleague and good friend, Val Phillips, and included many well-known Spirituals and shared both the history and stories behind the songs themselves.