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


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