Sihler lecture honors BSU’s 50th anniversary and Women’s History Month

Deborah+Smith+Pollard+sings+along+to+%E2%80%9COh+Happy+Day%E2%80%9D+during+her+lecture.+
Back to Article
Back to Article

Sihler lecture honors BSU’s 50th anniversary and Women’s History Month

Deborah Smith Pollard sings along to “Oh Happy Day” during her lecture.

Deborah Smith Pollard sings along to “Oh Happy Day” during her lecture.

Kyle Brusco (‘22) I Chips

Deborah Smith Pollard sings along to “Oh Happy Day” during her lecture.

Kyle Brusco (‘22) I Chips

Kyle Brusco (‘22) I Chips

Deborah Smith Pollard sings along to “Oh Happy Day” during her lecture.

Kyle Brusco, Staff Writer

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






Dr. Deborah Smith Pollard gave the 2019 Sihler Memorial Lecture entitled “When I Get to Heaven, I’m Gonna Jump and Shout: Female Artists and the Life-Changing Song ‘Oh Happy Day’” on March 19. This lecture was a part of Luther’s celebration of Women’s History Month and the 50th anniversary of the Black Student Union. The Sihler Memorial Lecture was established in 1980 to give lecture funds focusing on women in the church and in church music.

Pollard is a professor of English Literature and Humanities at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. She has also been a prominent voice on Detroit radio for over 30 years and was named “Gospel Announcer of the Year” in 2006 at the Stellar Awards. Pollard has lectured all over the U.S. and internationally.

Pollard focused her lecture on the gospel song “Oh Happy Day,” describing how it was created, how that creation was influenced by women, and how it influenced more women to get involved in gospel music. She told stories of several women involved with the making of the song, and then expanded to include women who were influenced by the song and went on to have influential careers in gospel and other musical genres.

The first story she told was about the choir director and arranger Edwin Hawkins who arranged the song and formed The Edwin Hawkins Singers, the group that sang the song. The lead vocalist for the song was Dorothy Combs Morrison.

“A lot of people thought that there were two lead vocalists for the song, one male and one female, when in fact [Morrison] had this incredible range from the time she was 12, and that enabled her voice to sound so different in the recording,” Pollard said. “She also created the lyric ‘when I get to heaven, I’m gonna jump and shout’ at the behest of Hawkins himself.”

According to Pollard, Morrison left the group when Hawkins would not give her individual recognition for her performance. Despite the split with Morrison, the song was incredibly successful, selling over 7 million records. A number of artists made their own renditions of the song, and one important remake was the folk version produced by Joan Baez.

“Her version came out in 1976, and it was very successful,” Pollard said. “She shows the expansion of the song beyond traditional gospel groups. She also helped to kick off the 350 plus recordings of ‘Oh Happy Day.’”

In addition to the more than 350 remakes of the song, the appeal of “Oh Happy Day” has also been shown through its multiple appearances in pop culture. The different versions of the song are used in many popular films, including “Secretariat” and “Sister Act 2.”

Bethany Larson (‘19) enjoyed that Pollard recognized the impact the song has had on culture and demonstrated the range of that influence for the audience.

“The ‘Sister Act 2’ video is iconic, so it was really cool to see that,” Larson said. “It was also really cool that she showed us all the different versions of the song. I had never really noticed that there were so many.”

At the same time many remakes were coming out, a former member of The Edwin Hawkins Singers was coming to prominence. According to Pollard, Tramaine Hawkins was just a teenager when she sang for the choir on “Oh Happy Day,” and rose to fame soon after that, becoming one of the most famous gospel artists of the 20th century. Her success, according to Pollard, was fueled by her membership in the choir of “Oh Happy Day.”

During the lecture, Pollard also told the stories of several people who were influenced by the song, including owner of Gospo Centric Records Vicki Mack Lataillade, gospel legend Dorothy Norwood who performed the song on tour with the Rolling Stones, and international evangelist Gwendolyn Reid who formed five gospel choirs based around the performance of the song in Japan.

Attendee John Bendt (‘20) thought that Reid’s story was inspirational and encapsulated an important take away from the lecture.

“I thought that it was really telling that she was able to form those choirs in Japan, and it shows that just because music can be representative of culture doesn’t mean it has to be,” Bendt said. “Music’s appeal transcends that, and anyone can participate in making music.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email