‘I’ll Fly Away’: How Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Charlie Daniels & Reba McEntire Each Made the Hymn Soar

by Jim Casey
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“I’ll Fly Away” has been one of the most covered hymns over the past 90-plus years. Penned by Albert E. Brumley in 1929, the uplifting tune has spanned both generations and denominations.

Brumley wrote the song after a day in the Oklahoma cotton fields left him dreaming of “flying away.”

“I’ll Fly Away” has been recorded by a who’s who of country stars over the years, including Roy Acuff, George Jones, Charley Pride, Ray Stevens, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Faron Young, Randy Travis, Kenny Rogers, Ronnie Milsap, Alabama, and many more. Of course, Gillian Welch and Alison Krauss recorded a stunning version of the song for the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack in 2000.

Let’s take a look—and a listen—at four versions of “I’ll Fly Away” by Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Charlie Daniels, and Reba McEntire.

Loretta Lynn

During the 1960s and 1970s, Loretta Lynn recorded more than 30 gospel songs across three albums: Hymns (1965), Who Says God Is Dead (1968), and God Bless America Again (1972).

However, Loretta saved “I’ll Fly Away” for her 1997 album, All Time Gospel Favorites. The 26-song collection featured re-recorded versions of Loretta’s previous gospel catalog, as well as new hymns “I’ll Fly Away,” “A Message From Jesus,” and more.

Loretta delivers a spry rendition of the classic hymn, complete with vibrant keys and steel.

Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash’s recording of “I’ll Fly Away” was included on his Unearthed box set. The compilation was released in November 2003, two months after Johnny’s death. The box set’s fourth disc, My Mother’s Hymn Book, is a collection of 15 spiritual songs.

Certainly, Johnny’s baritone delivery strikes an ethereal chord in the context of its postmortem release.

Charlie Daniels

Charlie Daniels recorded a beautiful version of “I’ll Fly Away” on his 2002 album, How Sweet the Sound: 25 Favorite Hymns & Gospel Greats.

However, Charlie also took part in a live album that was recorded at the Grand Ole Opry on Jan. 20, 2008. The date is significant because one day earlier, Charlie was inducted into the Opry. His exuberance the following night is on full display in a joyous performance of “I’ll Fly Away.”

The tune is featured on the 2008 album, How Great Thou Art: Gospel Favorites From the Grand Ole Opry.

Reba McEntire

Reba recorded “I’ll Fly Away” on her 2017 album, Sing It Now: Songs of Faith & Hope. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. Moreover, the 20-song collection earned Reba the trophy for Best Roots Gospel Album at the 2018 Grammy Awards.

Reba’s version, which includes harmonies from her two sisters and mother, is a spiritual knee-slapper.

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