Music

The Statler Brothers Helped Make Gospel Standard 'I'll Fly Away' Mainstream

AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

"I'll Fly Away" ranks somewhere right below "Amazing Grace" on the list of spiritual standards that've become part of mainstream, secular culture.

Which is to stay that even if you've never sung it from your go-to church pew, a popular version has likely reached your ears. Entry points range from the Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch version on the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack to Kanye West's nod to his gospel music roots on his 2004 album The College Dropout.

Numerous country, bluegrass and Southern gospel acts have recorded it, with Andy Griffith, Alan Jackson and the Chuck Wagon Gang responsible for memorable renditions.

Our favorite interpretations come from The Statler Brothers. On both the 1989 album Live-- and Sold Out and the quartet's hit TNN variety show, Jimmy Fortune's tenor vocals and the late Harold Reid's booming bass accompaniment push the musical boundaries of an all-time great gospel song.

While it's hard to measure how much the Statlers impacted the popularity of "I'll Fly Away," the four-piece unquestionably helped The Oak Ridge Boys introduce quartet-style Southern gospel to the masses.

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"I'll Fly Away" was written by Albert E. Brumley, a prolific gospel songwriter and the father of Buck Owens' longtime steel guitarist, Tom. The elder Brumley found inspiration for the song while picking cotton on his family's Oklahoma farm.

Per GodTube, Brumley 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."

Brumley wrote the song in 1929. It first appeared in sheet music form in the Hartford Music Company's 1932 collection Wonderful Message.

"I'll Fly Away" Lyrics

Some bright morning when this life is over
I'll fly away
To that home on God's celestial shore
I'll fly away

I'll fly away, oh glory
I'll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I'll fly away

When the shadows of this life have gone
I'll fly away
Like a bird from these prison walls I'll fly
I'll fly away

I'll fly away, oh glory
I'll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I'll fly away

Oh how glad and happy when we meet
I'll fly away
No more cold iron shackles on my feet
I'll fly away

I'll fly away oh glory
I'll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I'll fly away

I'll fly away oh glory
I'll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I'll fly away

Just a few more weary days and then
I'll fly away
To a land where joys will never end
I'll fly away

I'll fly away oh glory
I'll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I'll fly away
I'll fly away

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The Statler Brothers Helped Make Gospel Standard 'I'll Fly Away' Mainstream