‘Sweet By and By’: Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton & Randy Travis Each Made the Hymn Sound So Sweet

by Jim Casey
(Photo by Bob D'Amico/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)

“Sweet By and By” is one of the sweetest gospel tunes ever recorded. And it’s been recorded by just about everyone, from Nat King Cole and Wayne Newton to Burl Ives and Johnny Cash.

No matter how it’s titled—”In the Sweet By and By,” “In the Sweet Bye and Bye,” or “Sweet Bye & Bye”—the classic hymn has been a standard for more than 150 years. Amazingly, S. Fillmore Bennett (lyrics) and Joseph P. Webster (music) penned the song in about 30 minutes in 1868.

Let’s take a look—and listen—to three versions by Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, and Randy Travis.

Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson recorded “Sweet By and By” on his 1976 album, The Troublemaker. Nelson recorded the album in 1973 for Atlantic Records, but the label eventually canceled its release. Willie later signed with Columbia Records, which released his album of gospel standards in 1976.

In addition, Willie teamed with his sister, Bobbie, to record a new version of “Sweet By and By” for his 2013 album, Farther Along.

Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton recorded “Sweet By and By” as part of her 1999 album, Precious Memories. The 12-song collection featured a number of gospel standards, including “Amazing Grace,” “Old Time Religion,” and more.

Like Willie, Dolly loved the tune so much, she recorded a new Celtic-tinged version for her 2001 album, Little Sparrow. Dedicated to Dolly’s late father, the album featured bluegrass, folk, and gospel songs. Dolly’s new version of “Sweet By and By” included vocals from Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh of the Irish band Altan.

Randy Travis

Testify! Randy Travis released his uplifting album, Worship & Faith, in 2003. The inspiring 20-song set blended traditional gospel hymns such as “Sweet By and By” and “I’ll Fly Away” with contemporary Christian fare like “You Are Worthy of My Praise” and “Open the Eyes of My Heart.”

The entire album is acoustic, which really allowed Randy’s distinctive baritone to soar.