Grooving to the Gospel of Happiness
The movie Sister Act 2 (1992) starred Whoopi Goldberg as a Glee Club teacher of a bunch of high school kids. In the hit movie, “O Happy Day” was conducted by Goldberg’s nun character and the young actors portraying their parts as choir members, which included The Fugees’ Lauryn Hill, took this gleeful performance from the big screen to everyone’s memory. In sheet music form, this has the most positive words set to easy piano passages. The chorus simply praises Jesus for washing our sins away, turning our humdrum days to happy ones. In Sister Act 2, the musical director’s take on the hymn is to turn a boring glee club ensemble rendition to Gospel musicianship level. When Goldberg’s enigmatic character conducts the young members of the glee club, picking out the solo parts and then turning it up to allegro tempo, the kids all dance as they sing the catchy hymn. The next pass of the same chorus verses become soaring worship music. The audience in the auditorium cannot help but feel the contagious joy exuded by the glee club.
English church minister Philip Doddridge gifted the world his original composition of “O Happy Day” (mid-18th c.). He summarized what he was teaching about the joy and worship for Jesus into a hymn so that the congregation could absorb it. His “O Happy Day” became endlessly-playable, so much so that in the 19th century, it was commonly played during baptisms and confirmations across the USA and UK. The 20th-century rearrangement by Edwin Hawkins has become the gospel music norm recorded by many choirs and artists until now. One such artist, the Beatles’ George Harrison was said to have revealed that this song inspired him to compose their 1970 hit “My Sweet Lord”. It’s what many people heard when they watched Sister Act 2 (after Sister Act 2, it was included in the tracks of a couple more movies and TV series). Hawkin’s arrangement of “O Happy Day” earned him a Grammy award for Best Soul Gospel performance (1970) and topped the charts all over the world.