On The Life Of Albert E. Brumley
When Albert Brumley was born to hard working
tenant farmers on
October 29, 1905,
no one guessed a great composer of gospel music had arrived. None
could see from a dirt-poor cotton farm in Indian Territory to an
honored place in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in
Nevertheless, William Sherman and Sarah Isabelle (Williams) Brumley
raised a great, prolific composer of gospel songs.
If you had guessed Albert Brumley's future, you likely
would have predicted he would become a sharecropper like his father.
Even when he entered school the painfully shy "skinny kid" showed no
sign of greatness. Albert had no idea what his destiny would be.
Several years would pass before even a hint of what he was to become
appeared. He was to live the humble life of a sharecropper before
the world called him a great composer.
Some viewed a sharecropper working cotton in
Oklahoma as being one short step above slavery. The Brumleys did not
see it that way. William and Isabelle had strong religious beliefs.
Hard work was considered honorable, even noble. Work-filled days
were interlaced with pleasurable moments revolving around home,
school, and church. Life was hard but not dull. William was a
respectable fiddle player. Music was prevalent on the Brumley farm,
especially after supper. Their fun largely revolved around
socializing with friends and neighbors.
As a young man, Albert worked hard and ate
heartily as his mother's table. But he never "muscled up" like
country boys often did. In spite of his appetite, he was always
known as a "skinny kid." He was slim throughout his life. That boy
whose size was sometimes the butt of jokes, became a big big man in
the music scene around Spiro and
The first thing people noticed in Albert Brumley was his rich bass
Albert was a good cotton picker and enjoyed simple farm
ways. He knew it took courage to farm and admired people who worked
the land. During these years Albert absorbed the rich imagery of the
land. It would serve him well throughout his long distinguished
writing career. As a composer, he drew heavily on boyhood
Albert attended public school in
Oklahoma. He eventually completed the tenth grade. His style of
dress made him stand out. He wore bib-overalls like the other boys,
but he also wore a tie. This was highly unusual in a country school,
but most amazing to his peers was how clean he always seemed to be.
Albert participated in baseball, softball, and foot races. He played
first base in overalls and a tie!
At age sixteen Albert Brumley determined to write gospel
music. That year he completed his first song, "I Can Hear Them
Singing Over There." He would wait six years to see it published at
age 22. He saw the song in print when it appeared in a 1927
convention book, "Gates of Glory."
The lure of music had to be powerful to bring the
shy young man out of
Oklahoma. In 1926
Albert made a life-altering decision. He left the family farm and
traveled east toward Hartford, Arkansas, searching for a "Good
Samaritan." His name was Eugene Monroe Bartlett, owner of the
Hartford Music Company and director of the Hartford Musical
Albert thought of Mr. Bartlett as a Good Samaritan because
he helped so many young people receive an education and get started
in the music world. Now on a winter day in 1926 Albert E. Brumley
came in search of the "Good Samaritan."
For a young man raised in near poverty, formal
musical training was almost an unthinkable luxury. But Albert was
finally convinced to try. He left home wearing his only suit. After
paying fifty-cents for the bus ride, he found himself in the small
coal-mining town of
Arkansas with $2.50.
Throwing back his frail shoulders, Albert found the
Institute and soon located Mr. Bartlett in his office. He introduced
himself and said, "Mr. Bartlett, I hear that you'll teach a fella
how to sing and how to write music. I've come to learn and I
understand I don't have to have any money."
Mr. Bartlett asked Albert if he at least had money
for tuition, which was five dollars. Albert answered, "No, sir."
then asked if he had any money for his room and board. Again the
answer came, "No sir, Mr. Bartlett, I don't have any money period."
Albert never forgot what happened next. The "Good
Samaritan" looked the frail young man up and down and said, "Well,
in that case you better go over to my house and board."
The first meeting between Bartlett and Brumley proved to
be a memorable one. Over the weeks and months the man and boy
developed a loyal friendship that lasted until Mr. Bartlett died in
With Albert's tuition fee, room, and board
provided, he immediately enrolled in classes at the Hartford Musical
Institute. His studies began in January 1926, and continued through
the spring of 1927. He did not return to
fall. However, he made it back in 1928 and continued his studies
In 1926 he began teaching singing schools. Albert
taught singing schools, normals, and appeared in many singing
Oklahoma, and Missouri. At one of these schools in Powell, Missouri
he met Goldie Schell. They married in 1931 and lived in Powell until
Albert's death on November 15, 1977. Ms. Goldie was a constant
source of encouragement. She proved the perfect wife for an
immensely talented, creative, and slightly eccentric musical genius.
To say Albert Brumley was unorganized is polite. His habit
of working on multiple songs was a source of frustration for himself
and everyone around him. He could never remember where he left the
last song he was working on. He constantly wrote ideas and verses on
scraps of paper, which occasionally ended up in the wastebasket and
had to be retrieved. No amount of filing or office space could
remedy the problem, so Goldie proved to be the "walking filing
The absent-minded composer could have solved the problem
by setting up an office away from the family home. But Albert would
have no part of that. He insisted on working at home, probably
because he wanted to test new songs on Goldie.
She too grew up in singing schools. Goldie understood
gospel music almost as well as Albert. He valued her opinion about
music and often hummed tunes to her for approval. However, she never
supplied words for a song-composition was his exclusive domain.
The only exception was his father-in-law, Joe Schell, who
was a great student of the Scriptures. On occasion Albert would take
a new song to Joe Schell and ask if the words were Biblically
accurate. Albert said when he was writing "Salvation Has Been
Brought Down," he read the words to his Father-in-law. Originally
Albert wrote "Salvation Will Be Brought Down." Mr. Schell said,
"Albert, salvation has already been brought down," so the song title
was corrected and changed from "will be" to "has been."
Albert knew the key to a successful song was the wedding
of words to music, so he became a careful student of language.
According to Goldie, "When Albert decided he wanted to be a
songwriter, he started studying English ... on his own." He knew
that to create phrases strong enough to convey a musical message, he
needed a through knowledge of the English language. He recognized
the value of good grammar.
He also knew instinctively there were "right" words and
"wrong" words for every situation. Albert understood how important
it was to create linguistic "music" or rhythm when stringing words
and phrases together. From the earliest days of his career until his
death Albert had two books at his side. One was a rhyming dictionary
and the other was Roget's Thesaurus. These were vital tools and were
as much a part of writing as pencil and paper.
Albert never failed to carry pencil and paper. Countless
stories are told of him suddenly scratching away during Sunday
worship, or while driving! It was his practice that anytime he had
an idea, he wrote it down-no matter where he was.
During Albert's year away from school he wrote
that special song he called "a little ditty," entitled "I'll Fly
Away." It became the song most associated with his long career. It
is fitting that it was born while he was away from school living the
simple life in the cotton fields of
composed more than seven hundred songs including "I'll Fly Away,"
"I'll Meet You In The Morning," "Jesus, Hold My Hand," "The Blood
That Stained The Old Rugged Cross," "Sometimes It's Hard To
Understand," "Turn Your Radio On," and "If We Never Meet Again." He
also wrote many sentimental songs like "Did You Ever Go Sailing?,"
"O Mother, Sweet Mother," and "Nobody Answered Me."
Major recording companies recorded more than one hundred
Brumley songs. Several have been translated into foreign languages.
Albert is the only gospel song writer to have four exclusive albums
of his songs recorded on major labels by well known recording
artists, one each by The Chuck Wagon Gang, The Statesmen Quartet,
The Smitty Gatlin Trio, and The Shelton Brothers Trio.
Though his work was labeled "southern gospel," it was
accepted and performed by all kinds of musicians. After the songs
were written, pop, country, jazz, and even rock musicians performed
them. Groups as varied as the Chuck Wagon Gang, the Boston Pops
Orchestra, and Oak Ridge Boys performed Brumley music. Artists as
diverse as Elvis Presley, Charley Pride, the Ray Charles Singers,
and George Jones performed Brumley songs.
Mitchell, Fort Worth Lectures 2002, Hymns And Songs We Sing, Chapter
– “The Blood That Stained The Old Rugged Cross” pgs. 257-263
Old Homeplace Of Albert And Goldie Brumley
Albert E. Brumley And Sons
Hartford Music Co.
Fox Church of Christ, Powell,
Where Albert Brumley Worshipped Many Years
The Grave Of Albert Brumley
Brumley are buried in the Fox Cemetery in Missouri's southwest
corner, in the little township of Powell. In October,
2004, I visited with Don Deffenbaugh, preacher and writer of "Uncle
Rue" A Biography Of Roland Rudolph Porter. Don most graciously took
out time from his schedule, and took me out to visit the grave of
Rue Porter. While at Porter's grave in
Boulder City he suggested we go a few miles further to Powell to
visit the grave of Albert Brumley. I was elated to say the least as
it was unknown to me at the time that Brumley's home and publishing
company were anywhere near. If you visit the Brumley home, you are
not many miles from Rue Porter's grave.
If coming from Neosho,
Missouri you will
go through Boulder City on Hwy D. Continue travel to Hwy E south.
Hwy. 76 will join Hwy E for a while, then Hwy 76 will turn to the
right. Stay on E, but know that you are now about 5 miles from the
Brumley home and publishing company. As you come into Powell you
will see the publishing company on the right. The day I was there, I
went in and visited with Brumley's son, Bob, who runs the company.
Across the street from the publishing company you will see the old
homeplace of Albert and Goldie Brumley. Behind the house is Mike's
Creek Rd. Take the gravel road 2.6 miles to Fox Cemetery. Just
inside the gate you will easily see the Brumley monument. You will
also pass the Fox Church of Christ (presently closed) where Brumley
attended worship for many years and gained much inspiration for the
many songs he wrote.
N36º 37.640' x WO 94º 08.283'
Grave Facing West
Accuracy to 24ft.
"You Are Now Entering The Albert E. Brumley Parkway, Dedicated In
1987, In Honor Of
The Greatest Composer Of Gospel Music, Ark. State-Line Hi-Way 94, 13
Sign Appearing On Hwy E. North Of Powell South Of The Hwy.76 turnoff
Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame
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