Great Voices behind the Notable Gospel Tune, “I’ll Fly Away”

By
September 6, 2018
Clockwise: Chuck Wagon Gang, Jim Reeves, The Gatlin Brothers, The Oak Ridge Boys, George Jones | Photo credits: amazon.com; amazon.co.uk; shazam.com; illflyawayfoundation.org; dignitymemorial.com

When Albert E. Brumley wrote the song I’ll Fly Away,” it never crossed his mind that such a tune would reach a worldwide fame. The song has since been covered multiple times by numerous artists. The earliest version of the song recorded was by the Selah Jubilee Singers in 1941. However, it was the Chuck Wagon Gang’s 1948 record that allowed the song to soar high in popularity. Their version sold more than one million copies. Additionally, “I’ll Fly Away” went on to become among the top-selling gospel tunes of all time. In 2017, the country gospel group’s cover made a significant event in country gospel music history. Accordingly, their record was chosen by the Library of Congress to be preserved on its National Recording Registry.

But aside from the Chuck Wagon Gang, there are other artists in country music who fell in love with the song and made their own covers of it. Let’s try to identify some of them.

“I’ll Fly Away” Covers

Jim Reeves and George Jones were among the several country music stars who made their covers of the remarkable song. Reeves’ version was recorded in 1962 while Jones’ came out in 1965. Jones’ record appeared on his gospel LP Old Brush Arbors. More than three decades later, the song “I’ll Fly Away” again gained a significant momentum after becoming part of the soundtrack to the 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou? The soundtrack features the bluegrass and country singer Alison Kraussrecording together with Gillian Welch. The soundtrack became a top-selling record and the album topped the Billboard’s album chart. Moreover, it bagged the Grammy AwardsAlbum of the Year and Best Soundtrack Album titles in 2002.

The success of the song after its inclusion in the film enticed more artists to perform it. In 2003, Randy Travis recorded his cover on his gospel album Worship & Faith. On Johnny Cash’s posthumous album My Mother’s Hymn Book that was released in 2004, the singer’s rendition of the song was added. Country outlaws Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard also covered it that same year. Their version appeared on the album Outlaws and Angels. Certainly not the last one to cover the song, Alan Jackson performed “I’ll Fly Awayon his 2006 album Precious Memories. Among the more recent performances of the notable gospel tunes include that of The Oak Ridge Boys, The Gatlin Brothers, Alabama, and the country duo Joey + Rory comprising of Rory Feek and his late wife Joey Martin Feek.

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