Appalachia Music Oconaluftee/Smokemont

Just A Closer Walk With Thee

Just A Closer Walk With Thee

Just A Closer Walk With Thee is said to be one of the most popular southern gospel hymns of the 20th century. No one knows who wrote the song, but it’s commonly thought to have originated as an African American Spiritual.

I found this quote about the song:

In his book How Sweet The Sound, Horace Clarence Boyer tells of how the song was “discovered”. While traveling between Kansas City and Chicago in 1940, songwriter Kenneth Morris got off the train to stretch his legs. While standing on the platform, he overheard a porter singing some of the words to “Just a Closer Walk with Thee”. Not thinking much about it, Morris boarded the train and went on his way. The words and melody of the song kept repeating in his head and he knew he had to hear the rest of it. At the next stop, Morris got off the train and took the next train back to the previous stop. There he managed to find the porter and Morris persuaded him to sing the song while he copied down the words. Morris soon added to the lyrics and published it in 1940.

The Selah Jubilee Singer are credited with the first recording of the song in 1941. In 1956 none other than Elvis Presley had a mega hit with the song. As of today hundreds of artists have recorded Just A Closer Walk With Thee. The song also continues to be a standard in many churches throughout the southern US.

Just A Closer Walk With Thee - the avett brothers

Just A Closer Walk With Thee was one of the songs the girls planned on learning in the weeks leading up to our trip to Oconaluftee, but as I told you that never happened.

With no practice at all we decided the girls should go through the songs a few times before we even thought about filming. Once they started trying Just A Closer Walk With Thee great arguing ensued as it always does.

They said “It’s too hard lets just forget that one.” I said “No way. It’s the song I want the most.”

It was so cold inside the church they had to come out and warm up after each song. Chitter could barely feel her fingers. Arguing continued even after we were ready to film-as you can see from the video below.

Although it took several tries we finally got a version filmed that I think is pretty good. See if you don’t agree.

Hope you enjoyed the history and the song!


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  • Reply
    Carole W Herndon
    March 28, 2022 at 8:42 am

    Beautiful family harmony!

  • Reply
    January 23, 2013 at 12:42 am

    It’s a very pretty song, so plaintively sung like a child singing to a father they long to be with and be just like. I am thankful, our heavenly Father gave us the instructions to do just that in what I believe is His Word – The Bible.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    sandy kueng
    January 22, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    nothing colder than a closed up church but the girls surely did that hymm credit! xox sandyk

  • Reply
    January 21, 2013 at 8:51 am

    Really enjoyed hearing the girls sing this song, they sang it Beautifully ….was just something really special about hearing it in that church building….loved it!

  • Reply
    Peggy Lambert
    January 21, 2013 at 12:10 am

    Thanks, Tipper and girls. You did a good job singing and the pictures were good.
    All brother and sisters love to do their thing. Fuss and aggravate each other.
    One time when I was young probably
    12, my brother just kept on messing with me, so grabed up a file which was laying on the table and told him I would hit him if he didn’t stop. Well, Daddy had put the small end of it down in a corn cob for the handle. Did you ever see one like that? I acted like I was going to hit him and it slipped out and hit him right smack dab in his mouth and knocked his front tooth out. Guess you know I never did that again. Did I get in trouble. You better believe I did.
    Thanks for all you do.

  • Reply
    janet pressley
    January 20, 2013 at 10:55 pm

    Very nice!!! Who needs practice?

  • Reply
    Phyllis S
    January 20, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    Just beautiful and made my day!
    A favorite of so many of us and
    thank you, dear girls.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 20, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    You can tell from their red noses that the girls are cold. But, they handled it well. Chitter’s movement are probably an attempt keep time and keep warm. The cold crisp air, bare walls and stark furnishings helped resonate their already beautiful voices. Picking the guitar with cold fingers must have been painful for Chatter, but she didn’t miss a lick that I could hear.
    Personally I think Elvis is one S short of being a Pressley.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    January 20, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    the hymn was beautiful — but I have to admit I enjoyed the back-and-forth interchange — so typical of teens! 🙂 I loved the shorter hair, too!

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    January 20, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    Good job, ladies!
    I used to play in Dixieland bands (tuba) and it is said that “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” is a traditional funeral song in New Orleans. It is played slowly and dirge-like on the way to the cemetery and it is played hot and fast returning, as a celebration of the life of the deceased. We played it the same way, first time through at a tempo of 60 beats per minute or less and reasonably straight and then double the tempo and really jazz it up.
    I used to play with a group that had an old clarinet player named Irv. He was Jewish. He called this song “Just a Kosher Walk with Thee”, which I always found to be funny. Irv had probably played the song thousands of times in his career.

  • Reply
    January 20, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    Jackie try going directly to youtube to hear the song-go here:
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    January 20, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    That was excellent! Have the girls ever taped a recording of Softly and Tenderly, Jesus is Calling? That melody has been running through my head for the last week.

  • Reply
    Jane Bolden
    January 20, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    That has to be my favorite performance by the girls. I loved it! The shot of the church was beautiful. Thanks for the history lesson yesterday.

  • Reply
    January 20, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    I can’t get either video to play. I’ve restarted several times and there’s no change. The play list works fine.

  • Reply
    lynn legge
    January 20, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    tipper i sure love the way the girls sound in the church.. their voices sounded like angels song.. going straight up to heaven.. such a wonderful song … and i even listened to it three times 🙂
    thank you so much for sharing.
    big ladybug hugs…

  • Reply
    January 20, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    That was absolutely Beautiful! I
    loved the way Chitter led and kept
    time swaying. And Chatter, with
    that beautiful voice blending, I
    don’t know how she was able to play the guitar, being that cold.
    I bet Pap was so proud!!!…Ken

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 20, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    Oh, the girls do a great job and I guess extra conversation is just teenage angst bleeding through.

  • Reply
    January 20, 2013 at 11:56 am

    Next to Elvis, the girls sing that song the best! I, like Chitter(?), couldn’t be still during the performance.

  • Reply
    January 20, 2013 at 11:04 am

    God bless those girls, they sing like angels!

  • Reply
    Mrs. K
    January 20, 2013 at 10:59 am

    Lovely. They did wonderfully with so little practice.

  • Reply
    January 20, 2013 at 10:26 am

    Loved what they did! The arguing may have been worth it as they made a wonderful presentation. I remember when Elvis made a recording; I’m slowly learning about what I call gospel music. Great information!

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    January 20, 2013 at 10:05 am

    and girls…Loved the rendition of “Just a Closer Walk With Thee”.
    I wonder if the porter ever got any credit for the tune and words to the song?
    I guess his credit is knowing it is now being sung by two talented ladies in church in the mountains…With the history, I automatically think of the original singer and writer of the song….
    Thanks again Tipper and girls,
    It was well worth the trip and singing in the cold church for me…I betcha’ you just had a warm feeling after completeing the song….

  • Reply
    Lonnie Dockery
    January 20, 2013 at 9:34 am

    Sounds like they got just enough practice! It’s great!

  • Reply
    January 20, 2013 at 9:28 am

    A spectacular version! Enjoying it this Sunday. Thank you for the honest inclusion of the bickering too. Nice to see the “real” moments that make up life.

  • Reply
    Ron Perry, Sr.
    January 20, 2013 at 9:25 am

    Wonderful way to start my Sunday as I get ready to leave for church. I predict a great future for the girls. Beauty and talent…they can’t miss.

  • Reply
    Connie Cochran
    January 20, 2013 at 9:24 am

    Unbelievably beautiful. I guess the venting has to go on prior to the preformance, but the end result at show time is what matters the most. Thank you so much, I’ll watch it over and over.

  • Reply
    Kerry in GA
    January 20, 2013 at 8:59 am

    Beautiful-even with hardly no practice.:)

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    January 20, 2013 at 8:47 am

    One of my favorites! Good job by the Pressley girls on that one,I can tell they are coming into their own style and I like it…sing on girls, sing on!

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    January 20, 2013 at 8:35 am

    Something that just struck me is how much difference the location of the hearer (inside of the church) makes on how the song sounds. I had a little pocket recorder with me, and stuck it up on the pulpit where the girls were. It is a good quality recorder, and I just listened to its recording to compare with the video. My recorder’s version sounded good, but it completely failed to pick up the resonance of the church building structure – which Tipper’s did beautifully.
    Might be a parable in there somewhere.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    January 20, 2013 at 8:23 am

    I remember so well that my cousin Frank Dyer who was a “music school” teacher over in Choestoe taught that song. It was always the custom to have a “concert” at the end of a music school. That was a hit when it was sung–and as you’ve noted–continues to be a favorite among southern gospel singers. Cold fingers and all, the girls’ rendition of the song was beautiful–such wonderful harmony (and playing, Chitter!). Thank you! We enjoy hearing you and also of learning from Tipper’s posted research! Have a wonderful Lord’s Day, all you readers! And sing!

  • Reply
    Tim Mc
    January 20, 2013 at 8:19 am

    Very nicely done, I enjoyed it.. I get a kick out of their little disagreements,, Reminds me of when my Brother and I argued (a lot). One day they will grow out of it, have families of their own, and look back like we do…

  • Reply
    January 20, 2013 at 7:49 am

    The girls did a fine job as always. That song was always a favorite of mine too. Grew up singing it every Sunday at the little country church we attended.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Ormond Paul
    January 20, 2013 at 7:29 am

    Beautiful as always. One of my favorite gospel songs.

  • Reply
    January 20, 2013 at 5:35 am

    Beautiful! I have been hopeing to hear you all sing that one since the “Gitgo”. That song was the one my Daddy always hummed when we were working in the yard.
    My wife’s family was a musical bunch kind of like yours. They would always sing and play every Sunday. Whenever we arrived they would stop playing and then start up with “Just a closer walk” because they knew I loved it so. I can still hear my brother-in-law with that Gretch guitar as he played. They wern’t all that keen on playing and singing it until one Sunday I kept on at my wife’s Daddy to do it. Once he did, they did it over and over several times that Sunday. It became sort of a theme song with them.
    I have wanted to ask your family for that song but, was not sure whether to do that. Thanks, the girls were so good.

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