"Will The Circle Be Unbroken" - Music, Videos, Words (two versions!)
A well-loved hymn that was turned into a favorite Appalachian Bluegrass song by the Carter Family
There have been many recordings of Will The Circle Be Unbroken - a hymn originally composed in 1907 by Ada R. Habershom and Charles H. Gabriel, and later re-written by Appalachian musician A.P. Carter of The Carter Family.
Loretta Lynn recorded it. So did The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Doc Watson, Merle Travis, Joan Baez, and of course, Mother Maybelle Carter and The Carter Family, June Carter-Cash... and many others.
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The original lyrics...
...much different than the ones we normally hear today.
The words to this song were originally written by Ada R. Habershan. I believe she deserves an "Amazing Woman Award" . . . and I wish there was one I could give her! She lived from 1861 to 1918. A devoted life-long Christian, she wrote books and Bible studies. In 1905 a friend asked her to write Gospel songs, and within a year, she had 200 ready to give him!
This song, Will The Circle Be Unbroken, bears a 1907 copyright date.
The words Ada wrote were mostly supplanted by A.P. Carter's version in 1927, but they are lovely and well worth learning.
Ada's version was more philosophical, whereas A.P. Carter's version told the cold and moving story of a departed mother. He kept the original refrain. I believe his version became more popular because the experience of losing one's mother rips at the heart, and is a universal theme everyone (well, almost everyone) has to face at some time during life.
As of this writing, I have not yet lost my mother, and the thought of losing her makes me feel panicky. My mother's middle name is Maybelle. I wonder if my grandparents named her after Mother Maybelle Carter!
Here's the original lyrics. If you want to print a copy, please download my PDF version: Will The Circle Be Unbroken.
The melody was composed by
Charles Hutchinson Gabriel
This talented musician composed the music for Will The Circle Be Unbroken as well as hundreds of other tunes. He was a lifelong musician and was the music director at Grace Methodist Episcopal Church in San Francisco.
Books by Ada R. Habershon - ...the original songwriter of 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken'
She was a devoted Christian and wrote numerous Bible studies, as well as hundreds of hymns.
The Carter Family's Lyrics
...other versions are available on the web...
I was standing by the window
On one cold and cloudy day,
And I saw the hearse come rollin'
For to carry my mother away.
Can the circle be unbroken?
By and by Lord, by and by,
There's a better home a-waitin'
In the sky Lord, in the sky.
Lord, I told the undertaker,
"Undertaker, please drive slow,
For this body you are haulin' Lord,
I hate to see her go."
I followed close behind her,
Tried to hold up and be brave,
But I could not hide my sorrow
When they laid her in the grave.
Went back home Lord, my home was lonesome,
Missed my mother - she was gone.
All my brothers, sisters crying,
What a home so sad and alone.
I've been using ... D - G - D - A7 ... with those chords you can play along with the next video.
Michelle Wright, Iris DeMent, and Mairead Ni Mhaonaight - ...a beautiful, traditional version.
This is an absolutely lovely rendition by talented songstresses and musicians. Listening to this, it is easy to see and hear why this song is so very loved by thousands of music fans.
Where to find their music...
Mairead Ni Mhaonaight
Pentangle... - ...wow, great musicians!!
Just when you think you've heard everything, you come across something truly unique and amazing. This music is entrancing, surprising, soothing. It really sucks you in with a bluesy rhythm. Gotta listen!!
Pentangle's version is on this album - ...from back in the seventies.
Why I'm Studying 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken' - ...yes, I'm really studying this beloved song!
I'm a woman in my fifties who recently started re-learning the guitar. I had my first guitar lesson when I was eleven. I learned scales and simple tunes but after a year, gave up on that project without having learned even one chord because that was something the guitar teacher chose not to show me. Four years later I picked up the guitar again, this time learning chords from teen friends, and playing popular songs of the time.
I continued with my limited set of chords and fingerpicking styles for about twenty years. During my thirties I composed quite a few songs of my own. But then I had two more children and set aside the guitar, eventually giving it to my oldest son who is an accomplished guitarist.
After my two youngest children became adults and moved out, I wanted to go back to the guitar, and after a bit of saving and finangling, managed to buy another guitar which arrived in April 2010. (A Takamine G340SC.) Anyhow, I'm re-teaching myself and this time want to learn new things I wasn't able to get instruction on when I was younger. I'm finding YouTube to be a great resource.
The book I'm using for lessons is this one: Hal Leonard Guitar Method. This is a very elementary guitar course I'm using because I want to learn absolutely everything about my instrument this time, starting from the most basic information. Using this course is helping me develop my ability to read and understand music, especially as it pertains to playing the guitar. This gives me a much broader understanding of the instrument, far better than just strumming a selection of chords.
I've been working my way through part one of this comprehensive guitar-tutoring system - very cool, with a CD you can play along with! But then I got to page 23, on which I found the refrain of Will The Circle Be Unbroken, and it resonated with me, and I needed to know more!
I looked for the rest of the words on the web, came across a lot of information, and was hooked. The next two days I spent watching other performers sing this tune, and developing my own style for it.
There's no hiding it - I am a fan of this popular song. When I first heard the refrain, I was hooked.