“The Old Rugged Cross” was penned by American evangelist George Bennard in 1912, as a response to ridicule he received at a revival. Bennard used his personal scorn to craft the hymn about the burden of the cross. While he wrote around 300 hymns, “The Old Rugged Cross” is by far his best-known composition. In fact, it’s one of the most-beloved church hymns across multiple denominations.
The song found an even bigger congregation when country music pioneer Ernest Tubb made the tune the title track of his 1952 album. Since then, it’s been recorded by a who’s who of country stars, including George Jones, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard, Vince Gill, Willie Nelson, Ronnie Milsap, and more.
Between 1965 and 1972, Loretta Lynn released three stellar albums of gospel music: 1965’s Hymns, 1968’s Who Says God Is Dead!, and 1972’s God Bless America Again. Loretta wouldn’t release another gospel album until 25 years later with 1997’s All Time Gospel Favorites.
Loretta initially recorded “The Old Rugged Cross” on Who Says God Is Dead!, along with “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” “In the Garden,” and more. Of course, Loretta re-recorded the hymn for her 26-song, double-disc album, All Time Gospel Favorites.
John Prine & Mac Wiseman
The late, great John Prine teamed with the late, great Mac Wiseman to record Standard Songs for Average People in 2007. At that time, Prine, 60, and Wiseman, 82, put their pipes on 14-songs across multiple genres. Tracks included renditions of Elvis’ “I Forgot to Remember to Forget,” Bing Crosby’s “Where the Blue of the Night,” and gospel hymns “In the Garden” and “The Old Rugged Cross,” among others.
The end result is an album of above-average greatness that will make you miss the days when guys like Prine and Wiseman were dropping tracks and sharing laughs.
Alan Jackson returned to the church songs he loved as a child in Newnan, Georgia, by releasing his first gospel album, Precious Memories, in 2006. The future Country Music Hall of Fame member recorded the 15-song offering as a gift to his mother, with renditions of “I’ll Fly Away,” “In the Garden,” “How Great Thou Art,” “Blessed Assurance,” and “The Old Rugged Cross,” among others.
The album was certified Platinum by the RIAA for sales of 1 million units. It reached No. 1 on both the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and the Top Christian Albums chart.