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The Man Who Wrote 'I'll Fly Away'

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
September 13, 2022 3:10 am

The Man Who Wrote 'I'll Fly Away'

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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September 13, 2022 3:10 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Albert E. Brumley is recognized as one of the most important Gospel music composers of all time. Writing over 800 songs, including "I'll Fly Away" and "Turn Your Radio On", and with countless awards to his name, he truly is an American music icon. But how did this son of Oklahoma sharecroppers end up where he did? Here to tell the story is Betsy and Elaine, his granddaughters.

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We returned to our American stories next story about a man who had an extraordinary impact on American music, writing, bluegrass and gospel standard such as a flyaway and turn your radio on. Here's our own Monty Montgomery with the story. Albert E Bromley was born on October 29, 1905 uses granddaughters Betsy and Elaine to tell the rest of the story, and a little to no in Oklahoma. He was born there spiral Oklahoma cluster, Rock Island, Oklahoma. He corrupt really poor.

His family were sharecroppers and the sharecropper cotton if you ever been picked cotton. If you have a job that is terrible. It's awful. It hurts me that is why never doing it as a school experiment when I was at Yale why they had us do that to the pricks. And from the thorns or whatever those little sticky things are that that was his childhood but it was musical because his dad played instruments and taught him how to love music and he played the piano and we really hated picking like the life which is one of the reasons he decided to move toward the music and Hartford Arkansas by virtue different stories, the one that IQ appearing was. He walked over from Spyro in his home farm to Hartford with you know, it varies but about you at $2.50 or so. Not much money in his pocket at all. Hartford is by actually 28 miles from Spyro, so the fact that he walked 20 miles to school to me. Show some mighty determination which I think when he knocked on Ian Bartlett's door in gold and he wanted learn music is what really sold Ian Bartlett on the fact that this guy had something which is why am Bartlett allowed him sleep on his couch said pay tuition to kinda sponsor them away and course repayment was that he would have to come work for him after he taught him. You know how to how to write music to pay off the tuition debt but who was EM so am Bartlett was a songwriter.

He learned how to write songs for the same specter company and decided to go out on his own and he began the Hartford Institute in Hartford Arkansas in EM did a lot of things at that music school.

He was a publisher as well as teaching music music he would teach a temporary singing schools set up in small communities across the country for the purpose of educating poor rural Americans on the basics of music and tuition was paid for by buying EM's songbooks. That's how my grandpa made money or not. Everyone that works. The Hartford music Institute made money was I going to sell the song but some people would attend school and as you that were popular and your songs became a popular you assigned a page in the songbooks and as we now grandpa was pretty prolific when he was riding his music in EM taught in the basics of how to do it, but the talent of course came from. He brought a lot of songs in this convention, but she was one of the I guess I'm getting use the word's most famous contributors to this convention song but may view a list of signs it is off by Leon each the morning if we never meet again turn your radio on drink strangers to me messages only member that grandpa broke all flyaway over at her.

The time it wasn't something he just sat down and did one of the things that's pretty unique about grandpa distilled. This in here was. He wrote the notes and of the music along with the words. Not many people these days there are so many cowriter. He wrote he wrote the right to left, right to left exactly which is totally crazy. Think about yeah but that's how he sighed that's how work for him and he was very particular about the message and the song that he wanted specific words, and for all flyaway.

I mean, I don't know if he knew this or not, because we never discussed it but it meant a lot to him with that song. I think it took him a while for years to compose it and get the words right and he would get stuck on one phrase or one word and if it didn't see what his vision or meaning from the song wise because what he wanted to do is paint a story for people so they could see it in their mind and connect to it and file it and then I guess in some way applied to their life to help offer them hope and maybe purpose uplifts them a little bit in their day-to-day lives because you know people that have the things the luxuries of life. They looked to each other in community and music as a connection so that was the beginning of all flyaway in the years he started that after he was with Ian Bartlett, Ryan Bader, 20 when I always call that little ditty never really ever anything spectacular to him and and grandma's actually the one who made them send it in as part of his deal with Ian Bartlett was that he had sent a song in a month because he was headed works for hire contract, which means part of his contract was one song per month so it can be submitted to a songbook and so he was looking for a song to submit one month and grandma Zeigler just submit this because he never really thought is called always referred to as a little ditty. It was never anything huge, but he still was so particular about everything he did.

That's true, but he was very particular at that. But grandpa. I do remember grandma they spell we say grandma I don't know if the workforce description sure urged him to get that song out there for people to hear because she liked it and as we know, everybody likes a couple of other people seem to like it. I think because it's easy and simple, and happy, and it just in its hopeful and it's easy to remember. No grandpa always wrote that he would say that if you can't come out singing the song that is not good enough because you have to be something memorable, something that people will remember and everything. Grandpa used to say was that never get too far for people that you'll never be too far from the mainstream because everything is about people. If you it doesn't matter what you do with you write a song with you so close, it doesn't matter what what you do if if people will not accept it and make that part of their lives, then it doesn't matter how good it is. So he always kept at my site will people sing it doesn't connect to people is is going to be something that they will remember and I think also I was a very good example of that. I mean, what 1976 we got.

We won awards for all flyaway being the most recorded song in history gospel song in history at the time it was 726 times that meet Misericordia beanie license and that was 1976 Yuri Watt 3045 years later and were over 12,000 licenses when he first tried it a few years for it to become even popular, and it was even recorded, but not until the Chuck wagon gang recorded their recording and it just somehow connected with people plus things in the industry were changing from convention singing in the things he did to more professional group performances, but they made a recording of that and it just really took off. And that's when the awareness of the song went beyond convention singing in church singing. It was because the Chuck wagon gang is not necessarily only Christian music that had sing all kinds of music, and they been around for almost as long as we have entering the second third generation of their singing and so there's a connection there that's lasted is well and that started the road and grandpa was such a smart man. He recognized the shift in the industry began to do more of the publishing and that's when he was moving toward his own publishing company bought Hartford and did all these other things and so all flyaway was obviously a part of that is become part of the fabric of America and the world. Even the Smithsonian has named grandpa that the greatest American way. They did use this they said the grace of white songwriter before war to which I don't know why the net extinction, but they did course, all flyaway sound elaborate Congress as well, along with drink strangers.

So you don't know there's not many songwriters you have two songs elaborate Congress and was the story of Albert E.

Bromley was told by his granddaughters, Elaine and Betsy in his duties. Indeed, our masterpieces and staying close to the people making sure that it's a memorable melody.

All we learn that about Irving Berlin to stay close to the people mature vacant home. It then after hearing it once but we are Irving Berlin piece is beautiful new Norrell American and listen to so many ways. So these men came from different places, one from New York City one from Oklahoma and Arkansas stories are the same American story. When we come back more of Albert the Bromley story, uniquely American great music and parts, and so much more on our American store and then we returned to our American stories in our story on Elbert Bromley, the man who wrote many classic American bluegrass and gospel standard such as all flyaway and turn your radio on when we last left off. Albert got his start in music at the Hartford music company after walking their just two dollars in his pocket and Elbert would soon form his own company, your Jim or his granddaughters awaiting and Betsy with the store so grandpa started when he called Albert E from inside his own publishing company 1944 and he started writing for himself is also writing for Stan Spector and for Hartford, so the time he went back and purchased all of Hartford to get all of his songs back in 1948 we got all that started yelling we got hundred percent. Who was it different people. It own portions of his. He bought each percentage from each person to own a percent of Hartford and because his relationships of people. We printed books for literally everybody I meet with Chris on the Opry Prince on Louisiana hayride Prince on the River Valley Ozark Jubilee Bob wills groups is Charlie Hobart reprinted songbooks for everybody.

So over these years we've had this week sold just our own books that we may pass her own books.

We made ourselves insulting to me to sell in the National Enquirer of all things we did sold millions of we sold all of the world we sold over 40 million songbooks we've made over 100 million song books. Grandpa was genius. The man he was smart and I like to say he invented iTunes is best because grandpa got, he made a contract with all these publishers around everybody can lift the thought of all the songs they own, and he would send it to people like the operating Louisiana hayride also spoke.

Pick your favorite 150 songs send me a list will put a songbook put your name on it and you can sell which is why we sold to me. So, be made to me songbooks because everybody would pick different songs that would personalize it would have their playlist of songs make it in book they would sell it with their name on the front on the cover. It was a brilliant shift over in the industry to be able to do that and on the more personal side of this that I love.

I love the songs and stepping up grandpa was so artistic and so many ways. He helped create illustrations on the covers of the book so the evidence his folksy image the way he was in real life was presented on the covers of these books with low log cabins and pine trees which I love and little church buildings so he was such a hands-on person. He had from the beginning to end. He had an idea and then in the later days in the 60s and 70s. Dad and Bill. His older brother Bill were the only one truly left the company and they contributed and participated in the creation and putting together these books. This is where we learned how to staple and stitch box as we did do that on her and I've packed so many bucks, but you know that was just part of the business. That's what we did in the know where it was enough to where we even have a post office is like 10 people in commissary, which is where grandpa and grandma's house is across the road is the business development.

Fastened to be a thriving community there as well, but the post office still exists because we shipped from that rural area all over the country. One of the things that I was always impressed with how he lays the books that he had a specific way of laying them out with the numbers correlating like you love the number 100.

He put his song on their allotted time because you this. What is songbook was that when he had to convince a stylebook that was his number one, 100 and so he checked That connection and put it in those new books and think that kind of stuff is pretty cool. You know the way he continued that tradition really meant something to him so he named his kids after song people and he kept conditions of why gave him his beginnings, and you say get it meant a lot because of these behaviors. Over the years because of his work. Albert developed long-lasting friendships with countless well-known musicians who would sometimes come over for dinner at his house in Powell, Missouri were Elaine and Betsy would meet them. I didn't know this was anything I didn't know about fame or celebrity. I didn't know they were famous people from Nashville. I didn't know anything but that. What data grandpa did and what was normal life and the fact that this people came to the house. They were just friends around the table and it was not a means for me. I have a memory that you have been racing Ernest Tubbs laughed and he had raised his cowboy hat, my green beans. I hate green beans but I would get in trouble if I couldn't eat green beans, but you eat my green beans and trouble you have that memory but to me, that was nothing like one man I got somebody my green beans and thought no everybody came to the house. It never even occurred to me that they were famous, not even one time and we can talk about the hollow. We had what was called the Helen hollow folk Festival where we have local arts and crafts, and local music and it was focused more on that in the gospel aspect on Sundays and have gospel formation would be there be a church service locally. As time moved on, they decided to add in bluegrass and bring in some of those people that were famous that we did know were famous to sing on Saturday night she bring in the Opry.

Stars like Ernest been grandpa Joe Perrault, all of everybody came. Anything you can't not name it and Opry star that was in Powell on the state you had dinner with them because this is what did you make some homemade ice cream had a conversation pick the little they went on stage and then you did it again. You know you yet you jammed after word or you ate more whatever to show up.

I mean the buses coming in. Everything is intent behind the stages is low wire that goes to the barn the whole year to get the pickup truck and hold the wires the buses can no wonder I let I was my favorite part to see the wire is stuck in the wire like the other Thrasher brothers got that one time Blackwood Brothers as far as the Gospels are concerned everybody was there. Everybody came and sang on that stage demeaned by Marty Stuart was with Lester flapping 17 years old, played on a stage gal, Mr. Flatt and Earl Scruggs and Marty. Marty and I think because are just like there anybody back George Lindsay came with. Cooper showed that was weird.

Also industry people showed up, so it wasn't just the stars showing everybody would say I'm going to Bromley Weatherby the sing of the Helen Hollywood always show up. It was such a good time and it was just whether they were from New York or you know you miles away meant something for people to gather at these events and connect and get away and relax and enjoy. My grandpa was very particular to me and not likely. Powell P. Didn't mean even get awards and stuff you like, whatever. But I do remember the story when he went down to see Gov. Jimmy Davis governor of Louisiana, wrote the song you are my sunshine and they were down there in the governor's mansion and he served fried chicken. There I was all nervous and grandpa to grandpa's grandpa. He had chicken leg, put his elbows upon the table to starting and there was a go think it is minute everything was fine negatively.

All the nerves were gone, you know, grandpa is just grandpa was relaxed. His lesson stressed about it, saying he didn't want the limelight, even when he was either off behind the stage or sitting on the you like to sit on stairs sit on the terrace or squat on set off to the side to watch what was going on around he would talk to anybody that came out but he never really went up on stage very often, even at whatever event we were at. He just preferred that relaxed. Everything is okay. I meet my chicken leg with my elbows on the table, very laid-back, very laid-back people left because they didn't have to put on a face. They can be themselves around them. That whole authentic self thing you can help it because that's just your listing to the granddaughters of Albert Bromley told his life story in a way the granddaughters are telling their own because the stories are so intertwined in this remarkable American story in this wrongful American family when we come back more from the granddaughters and by the way, if you've got grandkids empower them to tell your family story empower early because my goodness do not know your family story.

For better or for worse, is a crime when we come back more of this remarkable American story. Albert Bromley on our American story, then we returned to our American stories in the final segment of our story on American composer Albert Bromley also American entrepreneur is told by his granddaughters, Betsy and Elaine in 1970. Albert will be inducted into the national songwriters Association Hall of Fame coming a charter member of an organization which according to the granddaughters with something you really enjoy going to continue with the story okay so here's what happened. He goes and what grandpa left Powell for like five reasons that was one of grandpa like Elaine was saying no limelight, not his thing. He would sit in the back of the room, grandpa, and hold a cup of coffee in the heat by the bull in his palm.

And that's how he would drink you lean up against the back wall very unassuming. You don't know who he is. He doesn't make a fuss is just how he spent most of his time with this young songwriter had just got some award. I have no idea what was he came up to me what he was so excited about it did what your name is Albert Bromley does mean you anything I know, I'll fly away the goggles.

Oh just walked off. Grandpa was funny to see you just did his thing. He never made a fuss and he ate.

Weird stuff. He ate with staff and slept where to and his and he was an eccentric by today standards the way I remember him what I was really small.

It was normal, but now when you talk about it is humorous. It's funny because he did eat funny things and different things that what we normally eat like buttermilk on Wheaties or tomato juice on Wheaties and the tree that was in the license I can have was a call spam man will treat which is another kind of canned meat product is important product that came in a tin can that had a key and he leave it open the fridge and think I slice them off when he wanted 3 o'clock in the morning many times stories and when I was little, before a lot of the other kids came along I would go down with grandma Bromley on Friday nights. Grandpa would be in his room is room right off the kitchen where he lived on this couch.

I mean he slept there. He ate there did everything there but he would come out and he would stand as we were supposed to watch. Gary says mom would let me watch something called the mentioned 16 and that was on the UHF channel, which by the way, we had to run a wire from the house to the top of the blast behind the house to get signal and that's another story to watch that he would come out to stand or he would never sit with us. They would stand there and watch it a few minutes he moseyed to the bathroom where going to come back through and stand there for a few minutes to watch assistant go back to his couch and that which is my Friday for a very long time. That's how I spent my Fridays by nights with grandma Bromley and the snacks and all the things I like cinnamon toast for you and Coco that she let me sip coffee, which was also no doubt, and never did pick up the smoking that grandpa and you know that he would smoke a lot or at least hold a lot of cigarettes.

He would hold him while he was thinking. And they would burn down in the ash would drop often there was a lot of cigarette burns on the table beside his couch relayed and I have myself seen grandma go up to him with an ashtray in The cigarette into the ashtray, so would drop it all over the floor something and it was kinda something he would go oh yeah just keep on his his his mind was focused on whatever whatever and sometimes he he had a lot of thoughts he would write them down. Ice cream sticks and pieces of paper lines for music, music notes and whatever telephone bills what everything is on and she always wanted Cadillac and I would I was little, just sent this to give you a picture because he liked to draw the pictures, there's really about the middle of the country with a 2 Lane Rd. just across the street literally was where they started their business to build the buildings 500 feet.

Maybe it was across two Lane Highway so grandpa got his car and he would get up in the morning when he was ready to go to work and he would jump in the car just across the street and walk in the building and that light, she would jump in the car, got a prospect to the house. Go eat and take his nap and that he would do the same thing in the afternoon and that was his regiment. The walking was not his thing. He wanted to drive his car back and forth.

Strange note. Dad did the same to say the exact thing that's what you did. You went to and from work is fun to think about those days. Albert Bromley would pass away in 1977, leaving a legacy over 800 songs all penned by his hand, but only one of them can claim the title is the most recorded gospel song in all of history. That song being I'll fly away, and its legacy isn't lost on the family. I work for American Airlines because I want to travel and density wasn't paying for it and I literally heard all fly away all over the world is Kevin. I heard it graffiti on her honeymoon, but I was in Australia on the bus.

Nobody has a clue who I am and I'm on the way to this this cave thing is like 30 minutes outside town and myself and my friend are the only Americans on the bus and rail Sicilian and their stinging waltzing Matilda Malec, cool bulb up at the next song they sang was all fly away.

Now that again. They had no clue who I was at night and say anything, but it's like it's an amazing meeting impact of that song it's been recorded in every country in every language on the planet license for entelechy, getting new countries and then we have to go back and change the name but that song is as touched millions upon millions of people because the song is over 80 years old so it's been around long enough for generations of people to connect to it and sing to their grandchildren, their families at funerals at gatherings and sayings want to have her and that's a story in Australia.

Those things are motivational to keep it alive because it still does mean something.

So whenever we can get it out there like it was recently on a TV show and they sang it it it I still got tears and I still got the chills and it's just still relevant and grandpa's. Betsy was saying new that was a factor in continuing things. It means something people when my favorite things is when people tell me there I'll fly away stories because everyone has one. I have literally hugged people in the grocery store.

I cried with them. I've cried with them in the hospital's lady, a friend of mine use that as her wedding march I thought was really interesting that there heard that before that song brings back memories for people of things they may have forgotten about like transports them to place the date that is so special. In such a place in their heart that that nothing else can get them there. The fact that they're willing to tell me that story is. It really happens to me almost daily. If someone tells me same here always hearing stories.

So one of the ones that I have is that Dylan told us that he was in a car accident and he was being life lighted out and he was dying, he and he he felt that he actually died and he was singing all fly away to bring himself back so he would not die so he saying that he sang himself back to life is what he was saying he say II just kept seeing all fly away.

So I would not die to know that that my name is a person in this world represent something that that can literally change someone's life in a moments is so huge honor to be able to be connected to something like that. It is just the people tells the stories I mean I'm serious. I've cried so many strangers. I think more people tell me the stories, especially hospital's high end up in hospitals like to know I get her lot number zero and what I don't know why, mimes, danger, danger prone whenever asked whatever, but people tell me their stories and I means I just cry and cry with people they sing that to their to their loved ones when they're older. Loveland, I mean we've done that hospice be. We brought people in the hospice and talk to Chuck wagon gang. We still doing the same work with them, brought them to hospice and people. They sing all fly away. People come out of the rooms and is like the nurses would like. They have walked in week they come out of the rooms sing and participate in the near that song. It's amazing to me the power of the melody. The grandpa conjured up out of literally no out of the cotton field in Oklahoma, you know to be able to move someone to where, as they are literally slowly passing away.

They are have the strength to get up.

They want to be near that song that's amazing. Great job by Monty Montgomery on the production of a piece of special thanks to Betsy Wayne granddaughters of this great man, Albert Bromley, and a special thanks to Catrina Hein as well and then remember he started as the son of sharecroppers and cotton fields in the middle of nowhere in Oklahoma and walks his way to a new life in the life of art and music in the M 40 million music books sold in the greatest and most recorded gospel song of all time here from the granddaughters touched millions. We love telling me stories because it connects American history with the American present and everything in between. A special thanks to any granddaughter granted wants to keep the story of their family life Albert Bromley stories you on our American stories

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