old song “Glory-Land Way” is a classic hymn and a gospel standard;
recorded by such diverse artists as The Chuck Wagon Gang, Carl Smith,
Hank Locklin, and Jerry Lee Lewis. The tune recently experienced a
resurgence in popularity after a stirring rendition was included on
the soundtrack of the 2010 movie True Grit starring Jeff Bridges,
Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin. The man who composed it, J. S. Torbett,
had a long history in the music business while the song, with roots
firmly planted in the early years of gospel music, has inspired people
James Samuel Torbett was born on March 15, 1868 in Alabama. His father
was a Civil War veteran, captured at the battle of Gettysburg. When
James was a child the family moved to a farm on Gum Creek near Jacksonville,
Texas. Two years later the Torbetts moved again to a 160 acre
farm on the banks of Flint Creek, near The
Grove, Texas in the central part of the state.
Two women had a profound influence on the life of this young songwriter.
One was his mother who taught James the love of poetry. The other
was a neighbor, Mrs. Gillespie, who taught him a love for music. Mrs.
Gillespie had an organ, and when she played it, James could sometimes
hear the sweet sounds drifting through the cedar brakes. He learned
to play music on Mrs. Gillespie’s pump organ.
Mrs. Gillespie’s husband Ben led the signing at the Methodist Church
on Flint Creek, and when he died, James’ father took over as song
leader. Then James and other members of the family joined in. Soon
the Torbetts became known as the “Singing Methodists,” and they performed
in churches and other venues all over Central Texas.
In 1914, James S. Torbett entered the mercantile business in Gatesville,
but he had music in his soul. He carried a small folding organ around
with him as he taught music in his off hours to children in The
Grove, Eagle Springs, and Gatesville.
When he wasn’t teaching or working in the store, he wrote songs. He
was always playing around with words and melodies. Even when he was
working at the store his mind was on his music.
Torbett sent examples of his work to musician and businessman Virgil
Oliver Stamps back in Jacksonville,
Texas. Stamps fronted a legendary gospel group called the Stamps
Quartet and a groundbreaking gospel music publishing house called
the V. O. Stamps Music Company. Later Stamps would partner with J.
R. Baxter to form the Stamps-Baxter Music Company with headquarters
in Dallas. Stamps-Baxter
was the first company to publish some of the most famous songs in
the history of gospel music including “Precious Memories,” Farther
Along,” and “Just a Talk with Jesus.” Stamps liked Torbett’s compositions,
made them a part of the Stamps Quartet repertoire, and included them
in hymnals and sheet music published by the company.
Stamps published such Torbett hymns as “Cling to Jesus,” Guiding Star,”
and “Will My Soul Be Ready,” but it was the upbeat sing-a-long “Glory-Land
Way” that resonated with congregations all across the country and
with the music-loving public in general. Like all great hymns, its
words and melody are simple, repetitious, catchy, and easy to remember.
Its message is moving and uplifting. “Glory-Land Way” first appeared
in hymnals in 1924, and continues to be a favorite in the twenty-first
century. The Grand Old Opry named it one of the greatest gospel tunes
of all time.
The song did not come to Torbett all at once but revealed itself over
time. He wrote the music first; then wrote the lyrics while his car
was stuck in a mud hole near Turnersville.
A farmer came by and promised to pull Torbett’s car out of the mud
but had to go to a neighbor’s house for a longer chain. While the
farmer was gone, Torbett finished the lyrics.
J. S. Torbett loved the church and its music more than life itself,
and when his time on earth was through, he sang his way to heaven.
His family tells the following story. On May 16, 1940, Torbett, by
then an old man in feeble health, sat on the edge of the bed and sang
“Glory-Land Way,” one last time.
|Soon I shall
see Him in that home above
Oh, I’m in the glory-land way
The Doctor’s Scrapbook by Dr. J. W. Torbett, Sr., MD (J. S. Torbett’s
1892 Gazetteer for Coryell County
Gatesville Messenger, December 25, 1996
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