A gospel hymn that first circulated in 1908 with lyrics by Ada Habershon and music by Charles Gabriel. Almost thirty years later, the Carter Family, boned up the song into using the same music, melody and verse structure. They made the song far more intimate, placing it specifically at a funeral and identifying the mother as the departed. The change made it more intimate backing up the deepest meaning the song wants to deliver. The first verse of The Carter Family’s version of the song goes:
“I was standing by my window
On a cold and cloudy day
When I saw that hearse come rolling
For to carry my mother away.”
The Hymn’s Many Stages of Change
Part country song and part spiritual, the original single issued by the Carter Family, marked sacred singing with guitar and autoharp was titled “Can The Circle Be Unbroken (Bye And Bye).” The group was consisted of at this time of Alvin Pleasant Carter (vocals, guitar), his wife Sara Carter (vocals, autoharp), and her cousin Maybelle Carter (vocals, guitar). Maybelle became a Carter when she married Alvin’s brother, Ezra. The Carter Family made significant changes to the lyrics, most notably in the chorus, where instead of singing: “By and by, by and by,” they sing “By and by, Lord, by and by.”
However, the Carter Family was not the first to adapt and record the hymn. Carson Robison, Frank Luther and the McCravy Brothers all recorded it before, but none of these versions gained widespread appeal. A list of artists have also recorded this song. Once of which is the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. In 1972, they released an album called “Will the Circle be Unbroken” that brought together many celebrities in the world of bluegrass and country.
Almost like the Carters, Johnny Cash and his family performed their version of the hymn wholeheartedly. Picture every family member sing their hearts out.
We’ll Go For It’s Subtle Meaning
The new version of the song speaks more about a family circle – father, mother, sister and brothers, knowing all will be gone someday. As we know a mother’s faith is the strongest in a family, the singer wonders what will happen if his mother joins our creator. Will they keep the faith she taught them? When they die, will they die with still having an intact faith in Jesus? Will any of the siblings lose their faith without their mother’s guiding strength? Or, the best part, will the family circle be unbroken because of the pouring faith of their mother, who instilled it in all her children?
The stanzas clearly describe the heartbreaking reality of attending the funeral of one’s beloved mother. However, the chorus delivers relief at the end of each verse. The verse reminds the us that,
“There’s a better home awaiting in the sky.”
Thus, the story proceeds again and again to a message of faith amidst despair and loss.
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