The Originals: I’ll Fly Away

The Originals: I’ll Fly Away

Each article in The Originals series highlights the first recorded version of a popular Southern Gospel song.

“I’ll Fly Away” was written by Albert E. Brumley in 1929 while picking cotton. The song was inspired by a song titled “If I Had The Wings Of An Angel.” When speaking of his motivation for writing the song, Brumley said, “I was dreaming of flying away from that cotton field!”

The song was first published in 1932 by the Hartford Music Company in a collection of songs titled Wonderful Message.

In 1949 and 1950, Columbia Records released the Chuck Wagon Gang’s recording of “I’ll Fly Away” initially as a B-side for their single “Dream Boat” and then as an A-side with “Looking For A City” as the B-side. The Chuck Wagon Gang had the first “commercially licensed version of the song” according to their history. It sold over a million copies.

The song was recorded earlier by at least one group, however. In 1941, the Selah Jubilee Singers recorded “I’ll Fly Away” as a B-side on their Decca Records single “Hide Me In Thy Bosom.” This is the earliest known recording of “I’ll Fly Away.”

I’m not aware of any musicologists or historians who have verified the claim to be 100% accurate, but some writers have stated that “I’ll Fly Away” is now the most recorded Gospel song of all time. Just guessing, I’d say “Amazing Grace” might have been recorded more frequently, but there’s little doubt that “I’ll Fly Away” ranks near the top when it comes to all-time best selling songs. It has appeared on multiple million selling projects over the years starting with the Chuck Wagon Gang single as noted above. In more recent years, it appeared on Alan Jackson’ million selling Precious Memories collection of classic gospel songs. The soundtrack for the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? featured an Allison Krauss/Gillian Welch rendition, and it sold over eight million copies.

Here are a few dozen Southern Gospel artists who have recorded “I’ll Fly Away” over the years. The links will take you to MusicScribe’s sister website, SGHistory.com.

 

 


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David Bruce Murray

David Bruce Murray is a church music director in Ellenboro, NC. He is the author of Murray's Encyclopedia Of Southern Gospel Music and the owner of both SGHistory.com and MusicScribe.com. David plays piano for Southern Sounds Quartet and the Foothills Community Choir.

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2 Comments

  1. Reply May 22, 10:41 #1 Scotty Searan

    Add a few other artists. Bobby Bare This I Believe 1966. George Jones Old Brush Arbors 1966.

  2. Reply May 22, 13:18 #2 CHRIS

    I liked the Selah Singers “first recorded” version. The quartet has a good, coordinated, “interplay” sound–a bit like the Mills Brothers with the strummed guitar accompaniment–and I enjoyed the upbeat tempo.

    David, thanks for this series and for the earliest recordings. Great musicological research and interesting sounds!

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