Almost Heaven | Sojourners

Almost Heaven

The hymn "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" became a bluegrass and gospel standard after it was given a new arrangement by A.P. Carter of the Carter family in 1935. It is a song about the hope of seeing departed loved ones in a "better home a-waiting in the sky."

After my maternal grandmother died, for some weeks my mother would pull a chair up tight to our console stereo, playing "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" over and over, weeping. The version she grieved to is from the 1972 album of the same name, with lead-off vocals by Mother Maybelle Carter and with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and a passel of country and bluegrass legends -- Roy Acuff, Earl Scruggs, Merle Travis, Doc Watson -- singing and playing along. At the time of the recording, Maybelle Carter was in the last decade of her life and career, and her voice carries a distinct world-weariness. But even when she was young, Mother Maybelle’s voice had a care-worn quality -- an Appalachian mournfulness that draws from the same well as the blues lament woven into black Southern gospel like that sung by the early Staple Singers, textures that testify to generations of hard times.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2011
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