The traditional gospel song “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” has been performed and recorded by many artists. In fact, it is one of the most frequently played numbers in the hymn and dirge section of traditional New Orleans jazz funerals.
And in 1960, Patsy Cline lent her rich, vibrant voice to record the popular hymn. It was released posthumously off her studio album Reflections two years after her untimely passing due to a tragic plane crash just outside of Nashville.
Though Cline is no longer with us, she still managed to blow everyone away with her impressive and powerful voice that made her cover of this age-old hymn spine-chilling. Her divine voice was echoing across the notes in a way only Cline could sing, bringing you a sound that will last for a long time to come. It also featured background vocals by a young Willie Nelson.
The Story Behind The Age-Old Hymn
“Just a Closer Walk with Thee” is a plea to the Lord to walk closer to us and prevent us from wandering astray and help us safeguard the Lord’s strength in ourselves.
“I am weak, but thou art strong. Jesus, keep me from all wrong. I’ll be satisfied as long as I walk. Let me walk close to Thee. Just a closer walk with thee. Grant it, Jesus is my plea. Daily walking close to thee. Let it be, dear Lord, let it be,” it goes.
The exact author of the hymn was never known until recently. Circumstantial evidence strongly suggested that it is dated back to southern African-American churches of the nineteenth century, perhaps even before the Civil War. Some personal African American histories also recall “slaves singing as they worked in the fields a song about walking by the Lord’s side.”
However, Horace Boyer, one of the foremost scholars in African-American gospel music, cited a story that disproved this claim.
“On a train trip from Kansas City to Chicago, composer Kenneth Morris exited the train on one of its stops to get some fresh air and heard one of the station porters singing a song,” Horace said. “He paid little attention at first, but after he re-boarded the train, the song remained with him and became so prominent in his mind that at the next stop, he left the train, took another train back to the earlier station, and asked the porter to sing the song again.”
Boyer continued saying Morris wrote down those words and music and added a few lyrics of his own to provide more breadth. He published the song “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” that same year, 1940.
Within just two years, the song became a standard in gospel music, and eventually became a standard in Jazz, and then it moved into the realm of American folk music. The first known recording was in 1941 by the Selah Jubilee Singers. Throughout the years, it was covered by a seemingly endless number of artists, including Red Foley in 1950, who made it into a million-seller song.
Other notable renditions were by Roy Acuff, Chet Atkins, Bob Dylan, and Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Merle Haggard, among others. Elvis Presley also recorded an unreleased home recording.
But Patsy Cline’s “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” is one of our favorites. You can listen to it in the video below.