Author: Daniel, Bert

Happy Birthday Albert!

Today, I thought I'd borrow a page out of Mark Varner's welcome columns from the past, because today is the birthday of one of my very favorite song writers. I don't know if Mark ever wished happy birthday to anybody on October 29, but I'm going to do that right now. Let me ask you this. Among the composers of old time gospel music, which one do you think has had the most influence in the bluegrass and old time world? I'd bet my bottom dollar it would be Albert Brumley, who was born October 29, 1905.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard a great gospel tune, wondered who wrote it, and found out that the author was Albert E. Brumley. Everybody knows "I'll Fly Away". It was featured in the Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? movie soundtrack. "I'll Fly Away" was Brumley's most popular song before that movie came out and it will probably remain his most popular for the years to come. But Brumley wrote more than 800 songs in his career and the songs that he composed just stick in your mind like no other songs.

This guy literally lived to write new gospel songs. Albert grew up on a farm near Rock Island, Oklahoma but at the age of 21, he enrolled at the Hartford Musical Institute in the small town of Hartford Arkansas. He wanted to study under his mentor E.M. Bartlett, but he didn't have enough money, so Bartlett put him up in his own house as a lodger and soon Brumley started producing masterpieces of gospel music. He composed "I'll Fly Away" in 1929 while singing the popular song "If I had the Wings of an Angel". He was picking cotton in a hot field at the time and he got the notion of flying away from the field which gave him the inspiration to create his own song.

Some glad morning when this life is o'er, I'll fly away.
To a home on God's celestial shore, I'll fly away.
I'll fly away, Oh glory. I'll fly away.
When I die, Hallelujah bye and bye. I'll fly away.

Having grown up on a farm in rural Oklahoma, Albert could appreciate how the new technology of radio reached out to people everywhere, and he used that as a metaphor to get people to tune in their souls:

Turn your radio on and listen to the music in your soul
Turn your radio on. Turn your radio on.

Brumley spent five years studying music composition at the Hartford School. The music institute was run by the Hartford Music Company, which allowed Albert access to the sheet music publishing business. By 1948, the songs that Albert published were so successful that he bought the company.

I'd rather live by the side of the road
Try to point souls to the blessed abode
Than to be a king, or a millionaire
And live in mansions in fine array.

I'd rather do the neighborly deed
For a traveller here or a friend in need
I'd rather live by the side of the road
And help some pilgrim along life's way.

If they put those words on an Occupy Wall Street placard and voiced the Seldom Scene Baptizing CD sound track, we might have something dangerous!

I'll meet you in the morning, with a "How do you do?"
We'll sit down by the river and with rapture, old acquaintance renew
You'll know me in the morning by the smile that I wear
When I meet you in the morning
In the city that is built four square.

Bill Monroe recorded that one and Grandpa Jones did a nice version too. Brumley songs are everywhere if you listen.

If we never meet again this side of heaven
As we struggle through this world and its strife
There's another meeting place somewhere in heaven
By the side of the river of life

Where the charming roses bloom forever
And where separations come no more
If we never meet again this side of heaven
I will meet you on the beautiful shore

Elvis Presley, Charlie Pride, Ray Charles, George Jones, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Norman Blake and even The Boston Pops have all recorded Brumley's music. I can assure you, that is a very incomplete list. So the next time you hear a great new gospel tune, check the authorship. It could very well be one of Albert's. Happy birthday Albert Brumley!

Posted:  10/29/2011

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