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I'll Fly Away

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"I'll Fly Away"
by Albert E. Brumley
Textby Albert E. Brumley
Melody"I'll Fly Away"
Composed1929 (1929)
Published1932 (1932)

"I'll Fly Away" is a hymn written in 1929 by Albert E. Brumley and published in 1932 by the Hartford Music company in a collection titled Wonderful Message.[1][2] Brumley's writing was influenced by the 1924 secular ballad, "The Prisoner's Song".

"I'll Fly Away" has been called the most recorded gospel song.[1][2] It is frequently used in worship services by Baptists, Pentecostals, Nazarenes, the Churches of Christ and many Methodists.[3] It appears in many hymnals where it is listed under the topics of eternal life, heaven and acceptance. It is a standard song at bluegrass jam sessions and is often performed at funerals, including jazz funerals in the New Orleans tradition.


Albert E. Brumley has been described as the "pre-eminent gospel songwriter" of the 20th century with over 600 published songs.[3] Other popular songs by Brumley include "Jesus, Hold My Hand", "Turn Your Radio On", "I'll Meet You in the Morning", and "This World Is Not My Home". According to interviews, Brumley came up with the idea for the song while picking cotton on his father's farm in Rock Island, Oklahoma.[1][3] Brumley says that as he worked he was "humming the old ballad that went like this: 'If I had the wings of an angel, over these prison walls I would fly,' and suddenly it dawned on me that I could use this plot for a gospel-type song."[1] The song Brumley described appears to be "The Prisoner's Song".[4] It was an additional three years later until Brumley worked out the rest of the song, paraphrasing one line from the secular ballad to read, "Like a bird from prison bars has flown" using prison as a metaphor for earthly life.[1] Brumley has stated, "When I wrote it, I had no idea that it would become so universally popular."[1] Other earlier nineteenth century slave songs also contained similar lyrics, stating: "I'll fly away to glory; I'll fly away to my heavenly home, And I'll shout glory."[5]


The Selah Jubilee Singers[edit]

"I'll Fly Away"
Single by Selah Jubilee Singers
RecordedFebruary 21, 1941
LabelDecca 7831 (reissued Document DOCD 5499)[6][7]
Songwriter(s)Albert E. Brumley

One of the earliest recordings of "I'll Fly Away" was made by the Selah Jubilee Singers in February 1941 for Decca Records. The group was founded around 1927 by Thermon Ruth, a disc jockey at radio station WOR in Brooklyn New York.[6]

  • [Released date?] – Decca 7831 – "Hide me in thy Bosom"/"I'll Fly Away"[8]

James and Martha Carson[edit]

"I'll Fly Away"
Single by James and Martha Carson
LabelCapitol 1415
Songwriter(s)Albert E. Brumley

James and Martha Carson, also known as the "Barn Dance Sweethearts" released their first recordings on White Church in 1947 and later signed with Capitol in 1949. They recorded 22 numbers for Capitol and "I'll Fly Away" is one of a half-dozen that "did well" for them.[9]

  • 1951 – Capitol 1415 – "I'll Fly Away"/"We Will Rise and Shine"[10]

The Chuck Wagon Gang[edit]

"I'll Fly Away"
Single by Chuck Wagon Gang
RecordedDecember 16, 1948[12]
Songwriter(s)Albert E. Brumley

The Chuck Wagon Gang's 1948 recording of "I'll Fly Away" for Columbia sold over one million copies and ranks among the top selling gospel records of all-time,[13] and is listed among the top selling songs of the 1940s in general.[14] In 1950, Billboard reported that American disc jockeys voted the Chuck Wagon Gang "18th most popular of all singing groups in the nation," considering all music genres, and the third most popular recording artist for Columbia.[12] Hank Williams, Sr. released a cover version in 1949.

In a history given by the current Chuck Wagon Gang, their recording of "I'll Fly Away" is described as the "first commercially licensed" release.[12] Their recording appears to have had two releases on Columbia, first as a B-side in 1949, then as an A-side in 1950.

  • 1949 – Columbia 20599 – "Dream Boat"/"I'll Fly Away"[11]
  • 1950 – Columbia 20701 – "I'll Fly Away"/"Looking for a City"[11]

In 2017, the Chuck Wagon Gang's recording of "I'll Fly Away" was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[15]

The Kossoy Sisters[edit]

In 1956, the Kossoy Sisters included "I'll Fly Away" on the album, Bowling Green, which featured instrumental backing by Erik Darling. The Kossoys, twin sisters Irene Saletan and Ellen Christenson, practiced close harmony singing, which is exemplified on this track. Their recording was introduced to a wider audience when it was included in the 2000 Coen Brothers film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?.[16][17]

George Jones[edit]

George Jones recorded an energetic version on his classic 1965 gospel LP Old Brush Arbors.

The Stanley Brothers[edit]

The Stanley brothers released a version in 1966 with Ralph Stanley later releasing a solo version on his Shine On album on Rebel Records in 2005.

Bob Marley and the Wailers[edit]

Bob Marley adapted a reggae version in 1973 and recorded it with the Wailers as part of his Rastaman Chant.[18]

Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch[edit]

There have been numerous recordings of "I'll Fly Away" since its inclusion in the 2000 film O Brother Where Art Thou?. Although the Kossoy Sisters recording was used in the film itself, a contemporary recording by Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch was chosen for the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. The spare recording, produced by T-Bone Burnett, features Welch on lead vocals with Krauss singing harmony. Their voices are accompanied by Mike Compton on mandolin and Chris Sharp on guitar. The soundtrack sold over eight million copies, reached the top position on at least four of Billboard's album charts, and was named Album of the Year and Best Soundtrack album at the 44th Grammy Awards in February 2002.[19][20]

Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch performed the song again for a concert of May 24, 2000, at the Ryman Auditorium that featured many of the artists from the O Brother soundtrack. Film from the concert was used to create the 2000 documentary, Down from the Mountain. Krauss and Welch's live performance is included as the final track on the Down from the Mountain soundtrack album, which sold over 500,000 copies, won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album, and appeared on several of Billboard's charts.[21][22]

Both the studio and live performances by Krauss and Welch were popular among folk music disc jockeys. The two recordings were ranked at No. 7 and No. 47 respectively on the Top Songs of 2001 Folk Radio airplay chart.[23]

Kanye West[edit]

"I'll Fly Away" was included as an interlude in Kanye West's 2004 album, The College Dropout. The rendition was sung by Tony Williams.[24][25][26]

Jars of Clay[edit]

The Christian rock band Jars of Clay have recorded "I'll Fly Away" twice, first, for the 2004 various artists compilation album, WOW Worship: Red and again for their own 2005 album, Redemption Songs. The latter features guest vocals by Sarah Kelly. Redemption Songs reached No. 1 on Billboard's Top Christian Albums chart and No. 71 on the Billboard 200.[27] Their recording of the song was popular enough on Christian radio to be placed at No. 1 on a list of the Top Songs of 2005 by at least one station.[28]

Alan Jackson[edit]

Alan Jackson included "I'll Fly Away" on his first gospel album, Precious Memories (2006). He offers an up-tempo performance with guitar and piano solos. Jackson's album sold over 1 million copies and reached the top position on Billboard's charts for Top Country Albums and Top Christian Albums, as well as No. 4 on the Billboard 200.[29][30]


A familial rendition of "I'll Fly Away", being performed at a close relation's funeral, is featured from 0:10-0:22 of JID's song "Kody Blu 31", off of his 2022 album "The Forever Story".[31]

List of recordings[edit]

This will likely always be an incomplete list. The listings at AllMusic are in excess of 1000 entries.[32]

Sampling lawsuit[edit]

"I'll Fly Away" was sampled without permission for the Grammy-winning song "I'll Be Missing You" recorded in 1997 by Puff Daddy and Faith Evans. In 2000, the songwriter's heirs, Albert E. Brumley & Sons, Inc. settled a copyright infringement suit filed against Arista Records, Faith Evans, Illegal Songs Inc., Chyna Baby Music, Janice Combs Publishing Inc., Magnetic Publishing Ltd. and Bad Boy Entertainment. In the settlement, the defendants acknowledged that Albert E. Brumley & Sons were the rightful copyright owners of "I'll Fly Away" and compensated them for an undisclosed amount.[36]

The Marching Southerners[edit]

The Jacksonville State University marching band, The Marching Southerners, lead football fans in singing "I'll Fly Away" at the end of each home football game on Burgess-Snow Field. Team members link arm-in-arm with each other before leaving the field and join the band, coaches, cheerleaders, university president and the crowd of fans in singing the hymn.[37]

A live recording of it was played at the funeral of Marching Southerners member Darius Whited on August 6, 2022, to celebrate his life. [38]

In print[edit]

Hymnals and other church texts[edit]

  • African American Heritage Hymnal (#601)[39]
  • Baptist Hymnal, 2008 (#601)[40]
  • Celebration Hymnal (#779)[41]
  • Church Hymnal (#333), 1951 (renewed 1979)
  • The Faith We Sing (#2282)[42]
  • Favorite Songs and Hymns (#179)[43]
  • Heavenly Highway Hymns (#54)[44]
  • The New National Baptist Hymnal (#432), 1977[45]
  • Sing the Faith: New Hymns for Presbyterians (#2282)[46]

Other songbooks[edit]

  • Wonderful Message, Hartford Music Company, 1932 [This is the original publication of the song]
  • The Bluegrass Picker's Tune Book, Mel Bay Publications, 2006

Occurrences in film and television[edit]

  • Two episodes of the television series The Waltons (1971–1980) featured this hymn – one performed on the radio by a studio cover group called "Mayf Nutter & The Sunrise Gospeleers" in the 1975 episode "Breakdown", and the other as a live performance by Jon Walmsley and Linda Purl in the 1977 episode "The Heartbreaker".[47]
  • The 1991-93 television series I'll Fly Away was named after the hymn.
  • This hymn is played in the 1997 film, The Apostle and is performed by Gary Chapman and Wynonna Judd on the soundtrack.[48]
  • The Kossoy Sisters version was used in the 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and the Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch version is included on the soundtrack.
  • The hymn appears on the soundtrack of Spike Lee's 2006 documentary film When the Levees Broke.[48]
  • This Krauss & Welch version was used during the final scene of the final episode ("And Away We Go," 2007) of the television series 7th Heaven.[47]
  • The hymn is sung by mourners at a funeral in the 2008 film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.[48]
  • The first-season finale of the 2010 HBO program Treme is named after the hymn, and it is performed at the end of the episode as part of a second line by the Treme Brass Band.[49]
  • The hymn is sung by Audra McDonald in "The One Where Diane Joins the Resistance", the third episode of the third season of American legal drama The Good Fight.
  • The 2022 biopic Elvis features a young Elvis Presley and his band members singing the hymn before going onstage for one of their performances. The film also features a more up-beat version of the hymn sung at a church revival in a flashback scene of Elvis’s childhood.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Richard Matteson, Jr., The Bluegrass Picker's Tune Book, Mel Bay Publications, 2006 (accessed at Google books on March 4, 2011)
  2. ^ a b Barnett, David (2006), Honky Tonks, Hymns, and the Blues, retrieved October 30, 2009
  3. ^ a b c Joe Edwards, 'I'll Fly Away' hymn classic, Associated Press/Kentucky New Era, March 13, 1987, page 4D
  4. ^ W.K. McNeil, Encyclopeida of American Gospel Music, Routlage, 2005, page 54
  5. ^ The Ladies' Repository. L. Swormstedt and J.H. Power. 1876.
  6. ^ a b c Dixon, Robert M. W. Blues and Gospel Records: 1890-1943, Oxford University Press (1997), page 785, ISBN 0-19-816239-1
  7. ^ Allan F. Moore, The Cambridge companion to blues and gospel music, Cambridge University Press, 2002, p.192
  8. ^ Decca 7500-8000 series Numerical Listing, THE ONLINE DISCOGRAPHICAL PROJECT
  9. ^ W. K. McNeil, Encyclopedia of American gospel music, p.66
  10. ^ James and Martha Carson Discographie, Rocky Productions, June 14, 2005
  11. ^ a b c Chuck Wagon Gang: Discographie, Rocky Productions, October 23, 2010
  12. ^ a b c History: The Chuck Wagon Gang (official web site of the band's current incarnation)
  13. ^ Bil Carpenter, Uncloudy days: the gospel music encyclopeida, 2005 [numbers referenced are based on RIAA figures]
  14. ^ "Music - Top Songs of the Century". Retrieved February 6, 2016.
  15. ^ "National Recording Registry Picks Are "Over the Rainbow"". Library of Congress. March 29, 2016. Retrieved March 29, 2016.
  16. ^ Jon Johnson, O Kossoy Sisters, where art thou been?, Country Standard Time, January 2003
  17. ^ Dan Pashman, What's the Best "I'll Fly Away" Ever?, The Bryant Park Project: NPR, June 17, 2008
  18. ^ Greene, Jo-Ann. "Bob Marley: Rastaman Chant". AllMusic. Retrieved September 7, 2021.
  19. ^ RIAA database (a search shows O Brother, Where Art Thou? was certified 8XMulti Platinum on October 10, 2007, Retrieved June 4, 2011)
  20. ^ "O Brother, Where Art Thou? [Original Soundtrack]". AllMusic. Retrieved February 6, 2016.
  21. ^ RIAA database (a search shows Down from the Mountain was certified Gold on January 23, 2003, Retrieved June 4, 2011)
  22. ^ "Down from the Mountain: O Brother, Where Art Thou?". AllMusic. Retrieved February 6, 2016.
  23. ^ Richard Gillmann, Top Songs of 2001, folkrado.org (accessed June 4, 2011)
  24. ^ Graves, Kirk Walker (June 19, 2014). Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. A&C Black. ISBN 978-1-62356-542-8.
  25. ^ Wright, Joshua K. (January 13, 2022). "Wake Up, Mr. West": Kanye West and the Double Consciousness of Black Celebrity. McFarland. ISBN 978-1-4766-8648-6.
  26. ^ Schaller, Robert C. Jr. (July 23, 2009). Kanye West: A Biography: A Biography. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-0-313-37461-6.
  27. ^ Redemption Songs charts and awards at Allmusic.com
  28. ^ "Top Songs of 2005 - US Singles Charts". AlaskaJim.com. Retrieved April 3, 2011.
  29. ^ RIAA database (a search shows Precious Memories was certified Platinum on March 8, 2006, Retrieved June 4, 2011)
  30. ^ Precious Memories charts and awards at Allmusic.com
  31. ^ JID – Kody Blu 31, retrieved March 30, 2024
  32. ^ Search results for "I'll Fly Away"[permanent dead link] at Allmusic.com
  33. ^ "Smithsonian Folkways - Groovin' Time". Retrieved February 6, 2016.
  34. ^ Somebody Bigger Than You and I at Allmusic.com
  35. ^ D.C. Blues: Library of Congress Recordings, Vol. 2 at Allmusic.com
  36. ^ Publisher settles copyright lawsuit, Nashville Business Journal, September 26, 2000
  37. ^ Kazek, Kelly (January 6, 2016). "6 Jacksonville State traditions, plus vintage fan photos". al.com. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
  38. ^ "Darius Whited - McKoon Funeral Home and Crematory Obituary". Retrieved August 8, 2022.
  39. ^ "African American Heritage Hymnal 601. Some glad morning when this life is o'er". Hymnary.org. Retrieved February 24, 2012.
  40. ^ "Baptist Hymnal 2008 601. Some glad morning when this life is o'er". Hymnary.org. Retrieved February 24, 2012.
  41. ^ "Celebration Hymnal 779. Some glad morning when this life is o'er, I'll fly away;". Hymnary.org. Retrieved February 24, 2012.
  42. ^ "The Faith We Sing 2282. Some glad morning when this life is o'er". Hymnary.org. Retrieved February 24, 2012.
  43. ^ "Favorite Songs and Hymns 179. Some glad morning when this life is o'er". Stamps-Baxter Music. 1939. Retrieved August 24, 2015.
  44. ^ "Heavenly Highway Hymns 54. Some glad morning when this life is o'er". Stamps-Baxter Music. 1956. Retrieved August 24, 2015.
  45. ^ "The New National Baptist Hymnal 432. Some glad morning when this life is o'er". Hymnary.org. Retrieved February 24, 2012.
  46. ^ "Sing the Faith 2282. Some glad morning when this life is o'er". Hymnary.org. Retrieved February 24, 2012.
  47. ^ a b Song Catalog - TV Archived June 23, 2011, at the Wayback Machine at brumleymusic.com
  48. ^ a b c Song Catalog - movies Archived June 23, 2011, at the Wayback Machine at brumleymusic.com
  49. ^ Allison Keyes, The Sounds And Soul Of Treme, Tell Me More, NPR, August 26, 2010