Behind the Song: I Know Who Holds Tomorrow

Ira Stanphill was an accomplished musician and minister.

Ira served with 9 different organizations in the capacities of youth director, music director

Ira Stanphill

and pastor. He preached across America, and in 40 other countries. He wrote over 500 gospel songs, such as “Mansion Over The Hilltop”, “Jesus and Me”, “We’ll Talk It Over” and “Happiness is the Lord”.

On April 23, 1939, he married Zelma Lawson. Zelma, a minster’s daughter, was a gifted musician who “played piano by ear and accompanied her parents on a local radio program.” Ira and Zelma had a son, Ray.

For years, Zelma traveled with Ira and joined him in serving the Lord as they shared the gospel in one crusade after another.

However, life was no perfect and Zelma eventually became disillusioned with the life they had created. Zelma eventually decided that ministry was not for her and left Ira. He is said to be devastated and continued to try to reconcile with her, remain true to his vows and forgive her.

The couple were divorced on October 7, 1948, after almost a decade of marriage. There are varying accounts surrounding their separation including longing to become a celebrity, addiction and other men. What is clear is that the marriage did not last. Zelma would eventually marry John E. Cowan.

Sadly, Zelma died in a car accident on February 12, 1951.

During the years of separation, divorce and her death, Ira is said to have sunk into a deep depression.

I Know Who Holds Tomorrow was written during this difficult and trying time in Ira’s life. Ace Collins writes in Turn Your Radio On that Ira Stanphill was driving when he began to hum and then sing a song. He was singing about now knowing what the future held but trusting God with the future. Upon arriving home, he rushed to his office and his piano and jotted down the words.

Following Zelda’s death, he married Gloria Hollingsworth on June 7, 1951 and the couple had two daughters together.

Stanphill would continue to share the gospel and write hymns and songs of faith for the remainder of his life.

But, he would face other difficult times on which he had to trust in knowing who holds tomorrow.

In 1976, he was diagnosed with “a malignant tumor in the right front quadrant of the brain.” The surgery was successful, but it is said that his personality changed following the surgery.

Ira lived another seventeen years following his surgery. In his later years, he can be found on the Gaither Homecoming videos.

Ira Stanphill died on December 30, 1993 and met the one who holds tomorrow face to face. His widow, Gloria, joined him in heaven on August 22, 2017.


Sometimes our greatest tragedy yields our strongest testimony. This is the story of I Know Who Holds Tomorrow #songstory Click To Tweet


  • Ronald Walker

    What a lovely Godly man,he will be in Heaven with his Wife and people. Praise be to God.

  • Cary Downey

    Great article. Well done and put together. The video is a good conclusion to this wonderful story. I love reading about the history of the hymn writers. Keep up the good work!

  • jimmarsh

    Nice summary of a man of God whose music has meant so much to me.

  • John P Beyer

    awesome story! thanks for sharing it!

  • Brice Martin

    I know who Holds tomorrow.That song not only touches my heart but is a foundation, like the scripture,that truly makes hope for tomorrow.No matter what the adversary does. Glory to God !


    A Song so simple and so sublime. We must let God hold our hand rather than try to hold His hand. His grip is infinitely stronger!

  • Debbie

    thank for allowing God to guide you into this ministry of encouragement for others. I too enjoy and feel inspired when reading about the history of our precious hymns, for I know so many of them are results of painful seasons in the believers/song writers lives.
    My Uncle Larry would sing this song and wrote a portion of it in card to me. It holds a special place in my heart.

  • This resonates with me more today then ever in my lifetime.

  • Michael Moore

    Rev. Ira Stanphill is one of my favorite hymn writers and ministers! The hymns God gave him to write have meant so much to me and are truly blessed of God! I could write all day of the blessings I have received from those hymns and not even begin to tell the full story of how the Lord has encouraged me through difficult times in the ministry! I love them all! He washed my eyes with tears, We’ll talk it over, These things shall pass, A crown of Thorns, The Healer, and Mansion Over the Hilltop and many others have meant so much to me. Not only was he such a prolific hymn writer but composer as well. He was known to stop preaching in the middle of a sermon, go to the piano and sing for the first time a hymn that had come to him while he was preaching that sermon! I have heard he even hired a stenographer to travel with him to transcribe the lyrics as he sang them so he could remember the words. God would give him a hymn and tune to accompany it in just that spontaneous kind of way! What a blessing it was when God saved and called Brother Ira Stanphill! What a benefit he is to the kingdom of God! Thank you so much for sharing this another glorious story behind the song!!!!!

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