by Jessica Nicholson
Country music has a long history of songs that give a nod to faith, hope and a higher power—some songs more overtly than others.
From Hank Williams, Sr.’s classic “I Saw The Light” to music from The Louvin Brothers, the Statler Brothers, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, the Oak Ridge Boys, the Dolly Parton/Brad Paisley collaboration “When I Get Where I’m Going,” and so many more, songs of faith in a higher power have been a through-line in country music songcraft.
Leading up to Easter Sunday on April 4, here are 10 songs meant to bring inspiration and hope.
Carrie Underwood, “Something in the Water”
Since her breakthrough debut country single, “Jesus, Take The Wheel,” to her recently-released gospel album My Savior, superstar Carrie Underwood has never been shy about her faith. With the Grammy-winning 2014 hit “Something in the Water,” her voice is at once powerful and earnest, as she sings about the power of finding faith, and incorporates a chorus of “Amazing Grace” at the song’s end.
Dolly Parton, “He’s Alive”
Country music’s artists have a long history of concluding albums with a nod to their faith or a traditional hymn. Dolly Parton did so on her 1989 album White Limozeen, with a rendition of the Don Francisco song “He’s Alive,” which depicts the Easter story. Francisco’s original version earned him two GMA Dove Awards honors in 1980, for Song of the Year and Songwriter of the Year.
In 1989, Parton offered a spirit-filled rendition of the song as part of the 23rd annual Country Music Association Awards. The clip has become a favorite among country music fans, who share the video on social media every Easter.
Randy Travis, “Three Wooden Crosses”
When Randy Travis released “Three Wooden Crosses” in 2002, he hadn’t earned a No. 1 hit on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart since “Whisper My Name” in 1994. This straightforward story song centers on the tale of four characters—a farmer, preacher, teacher and a prostitute—on a fateful bus ride, with a breathtaking twist at the end.
This tale of redemption and faith became a chart-topping hit for Travis and earned accolades from the Country Music Association (Song of the Year) and Gospel Music Association (Country Song of the Year).
Chris Young, “The Man I Want To Be”
In this fiddle-drenched hit from 2009, a guy pleads for help from a higher power in his quest to turn from personal and relational failures and become a better person, or as the song calls it, the kind of man a mirror likes to see. The track was penned by Tim Nichols and Brett James (also a co-writer on Carrie Underwood’s debut hit “Jesus, Take The Wheel”), and was the third single from Young’s album by the same name. “The Man I Want to Be” became Young’s second consecutive No. 1 hit.
George Strait, “I Saw God Today”
This hit from Strait’s 2008 album Troubadour centers on focusing on the good, simple things in life, whether that a flower growing up through the crack in the concrete, or looking at a newborn baby. Rodney Clawson, Monty Criswell and Wade Kirby penned the earnest song, which was named Single of the Year by the CMA in 2008.
Hank Williams, Sr., “I Saw The Light”
Though “I Saw The Light” saw little commercial success when Hank Sr. released it in 1948, the song has become one of the pillars of country music songwriting, a frank story of sin and redemption and has been covered numerous artists including Johnny Cash, Roy Acuff, Crystal Gayle and many others.
According to I Saw The Light: The Story of Hank Williams by Colin Escott, Williams was inspired to pen the song while traveling in Alabama, and includes an account from another alleged traveler on that trip, Leaborne Eads:
“Mizz [Lilly] Williams had given me money to hand out circulars at Fort Deposit. Hank was higher than a kite by the time the show was over. She drove home, and he was in the back seat sleepin’ it off. There was a beacon light near Dannelly Field Airport, and Mizz Williams knew it always took time to get Hank awake when he was drunk like that, so she turned around and told him, ‘Hank, wake up, we’re nearly home. I just saw the light.’ Between there and home he wrote the song.”
Williams began writing the song in January 1947, and Escott notes both the song’s melody and lyrics are similar to Albert E. Brumley’s “He Set Me Free.”
Last year, Williams’ grandchildren, including Holly, Hilary and Sam, took the stage to perform together publicly for the first time during an episode of CMT’s “Another Round,” and included a performance of “I Saw The Light.”
Willie Nelson, “Family Bible”
Nelson wrote “Family Bible” in the late 1950s, and sold the song to Paul Buskirk. Artist Claude Gray would record the song and earn a Top 10 hit with the track in 1960, while George Jones would earn a No. 16 hit with the song in 1961. Nelson himself didn’t record “Family Bible” until it was included on his 1971 album Yesterday’s Wine.
Brooks & Dunn, “Believe”
This soulful song is led by Ronnie Dunn’s superior vocals, a boy recalls his friendship with “Old Man Wrigley,” after the boy’s mother sent him to help the elderly gentleman with errands. He learns that Wrigley’s wife and son died, and that Wrigley leans on his faith that he will see them again in heaven to help him cope with their deaths.
After its release in 2005, “I Believe” earned the CMA’s honors for Single of the Year, Song of the Year, and Music Video of the Year.
Vince Gill, “Go Rest High on That Mountain”
Gill began writing this song after the death of his friend and fellow country artist Keith Whitley in 1989; the song’s lyrics even incorporate a nod to Whitley’s 1989 hit “I’m No Stranger To The Rain.” It took another four years before Gill would complete the song after his brother passed away.
Patty Loveless and Ricky Skaggs join Gill with soaring harmonies on the 1995 release of the song, which earned a CMA award for Song of the Year.
“Go Rest High” has been used in countless memorials and funeral services since its release. Gill and Loveless even performed the song during George Jones’ funeral service, held at the Grand Ole Opry house in 2013.
Rascal Flatts, “Bless The Broken Road”
“Bless The Broken Road” became a five-week No. 1 hit for the trio in 2004, earning a Grammy Award for Best Country Song, and becoming a staple at weddings everywhere, thanks to its lyrics of gratitude to a higher power for finding love at the end of the “broken road.”
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Jeff Hanna penned the song alongside Bobby Boyd and Marcus Hummon. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band included the song on their Acoustic album, and Hummon later released a rendition of the track on his 1995 project All in Good Time.