Back in 1973, a variety of greats gave a stellar performance of the gospel tune “I’ll Fly Away.”
The Hee Haw show had always featured gospel singers performing gospel songs and church song standards. And in one memorable episode, Roy Clark and Grandpa Jones from the Hee Haw Gospel Quartet teamed up with David ‘Stringbean’ Akeman and Tennessee Ernie Ford to sing the classic gospel song.
The four gents were all dressed hill country style, with most of them in hats, boots, and dungarees while the youngest member of the line-up is sporting some enviable sideburns. With a barnyard scene as their backdrop, complete with wagon wheels and hay bales that make it look even more real, the musicians delivered a rousing rendition of the gospel favorite.
Their voices blended well, just as if they had been singing together forever. Three of the singers played banjos with back-up from guitars and percussion. And the audience can’t help but applaud the skillful fingers flying over those banjo strings, including the unique banjo twang carrying out the lively melody.
In the middle of the performance, there was a brief banjo solo piece that stirs the soul.
The Most Recorded Gospel Song
Written by Albert Brumley in 1929, “I’ll Fly Away” is one of the most popular of all gospel songs. It is clearly evident by how often it is played at church services, funerals, and even many a bluegrass jam session.
“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,” the song goes.
Brumley has been described as the “pre-eminent gospel songwriter” of the 20th century with more than 600 published songs. His other popular songs include “This World Is Not My Home,” “Turn Your Radio On,” “Jesus, Hold My Hand,” and “I’ll Meet You in the Morning.
According to interviews, Brumley came up with the idea for the song when picking cotton on his father’s farm located at Rock Island, Oklahoma. Brumley said that while working, he hummed “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.”
The song Brumley described appeared to be “The Prisoner’s Song.” It took three years further until Brumley worked out the rest of the song, rephrasing one line from the secular ballad to read, “Like a bird from prison bars has flown” – he used prison as a metaphor for earthly life.
Brumley had said, “When I wrote it, I had no idea that it would become so universally popular.” It was published in 1932 by the Hartford Music company in a Wonderful Message collection and has since been recorded by several popular musicians. This includes George Jones, Alan Jackson, Alison Krauss, and Gillian Welch, among others.
Watch Hee Haw Gospel Quartet’s Roy Clark and Grandpa Jones together with David ‘Stringbean’ Akeman and Tennessee Ernie Ford in a classic performance of “I’ll Fly Away.”
David Akeman, Grandpa Jones, roy clark, Tennessee Ernie Ford