“I’ll Fly Away” by Albert E. Brumley

In 2017, the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress selected the Chuck Wagon Gang’s recording of “I’ll Fly Away”. This captured a cultural, historical, or artistic significance.  “I’ll Fly Away” was among many songs written by Albert E. Brumley, an Oklahoman who originated the Brumley Gospel Sing in 1969.

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. Moreover, it is among the top selling songs of the 1940s in general. In 1950, Billboard reported that American disc jockeys voted the Chuck Wagon Gang as the 18th most popular singing groups in the nation taking into consideration all music genres. Aside from that, it was the third most popular recording artist for Columbia.

The Background of the Song

Albert E. Brumley has been described as the “pre-eminent gospel songwriter” of the 20th century with over 600 published songs. Other titles of his 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. 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’. Right then and there, it dawned on him that he could use this plot for a gospel-type song. The song Brumley described appears to be “The Prisoner’s Song”. 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 an analogy for earthly life. Brumley stated that when he wrote it, he had no idea that it would become so universally popular.

In history, critics regard “I’ll Fly Away” as the most recorded song. Here is a good collaboration from Gaither Vocal Band, The Oak Ridge Boys, and The Gatlin Brothers.