Hymn Story: Father Along

The chorus to Farther Along is one that is easy to get stuck in your heart and soul. Much of life we will only understand “farther along”.

However, there are a lot of questions and uncertainty about the origins of this song.

In 1911, Rev. W. A. Fletcher, an itinerant preacher, was struggling with his calling and family obligations. He felt God calling him to the Indian territories to share the gospel, but back home in Cleburne, Texas, his wife was expecting their first born child in just a few weeks. He was sad that he would not be present for the birth of the child. Rev. Fletcher began to write his feelings and frame of mind in the form of a poem, while he was on the train headed to the Indian Territories. J.R. Baxter, a gospel music promoter, was sitting beside him and very impressed with the written lyrics. Mr. Baxter offered Rev. Fletcher $2.00 for the lyrics and subsequently put music to the poem. At least this is the story posted by his grandson in 2008, although no other documentation seems to be found.

The oldest known printed edition of Farther Along the 1911 hymnal “Select Hymns for Christian Worship and General Gospel Service.” The only attribution provided is “Arr. B.E.W.” which refers to the hymnal editor named Barney Elliott Warren.

The song was copyrighted in 1937, as part of the Starlit Crown collection by the Stamps-Baxter Music Company.

Are you homesick for that heavenly land?

After hearing the song on the radio, Rev. W. B. Stephens, contacted the Stamps-Baxter Music Company and claimed to be the author.

In a published newspaper article in the Iowa Weekly Tribune {May 5, 1938} the story about his claim of authorship is mentioned. The article states “He said he was sitting at the organ running his fingers aimlessly over the keys. His luck had been against him and he was feeling blue, but somehow he struck a chord which came right out of the the organ like the “Lost Chord” of Sir Arthur Sullivan…Any way he did not lose it this time but wrote it down, and put his thoughts into meter in “Farther Along.”

After considerable correspondence, Rev. Stephens was credited as the song’s author in future publications.

In other publications, W. E. Lindsey {1921 publication} and W. P. Jay {1960s publication} have also been credited with the authorship of the song. However, Rev. Stephens continues to be credited with the arrangements published today.

The copyright was renewed in 1965 by the Stamps-Baxter Music Company.

We will never know for sure who wrote the song until we reach the by and by. Perhaps many different hands molded the song into the beloved hymn we know today. Imagine if songs could talk the story it might share of it’s birth, origins, molding and interpretations.

The song has been recorded by numerous composers over the years including The Byrds, Hand Williams, Glen Campbell, Dolly Parton, Brad Paisley, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Ronnie Milsap and the Million Dollar Quartet. Ike and Tina turned rewrote the song as Father Alone and provided a Grammy nominated performance on the 1974 album, The Gospel According to Ike & Tina.

Regardless of who penned the lyrics, they still hold true even today—well over a century after they were written.

After all, “Farther along we’ll know more about it…we’ll understand it all by and by.”

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