Court Orders New Hearings in Hymn Dispute

Court Orders New Hearings in Hymn Dispute

Court wants new hearings in dispute over ‘I’ll Fly Away’

Nashville Tennessean — August 15, 2013

Written by Brett Barrouquere —  Associated Press

A long-running family dispute over a popular gospel song won’t just fly away.

The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday ordered more hearings in the fight over who owns the rights and royalties to Albert Brumley Sr.’s classic “I’ll Fly Away.”

Judge Boyce Martin wrote that a trial judge erred in excluding two articles quoting Brumley about where he worked when the song was written and ordered further proceedings in the case. Martin also concluded that U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger properly allowed a recording of an interview between Brumley and one of his sons to be played at a 2011 trial.

“The evidentiary weight to be given to the challenged content in the articles should have been left to the discretion of the jury,” Martin wrote.

The dispute, which has been going on for five years, stems from a disagreement between Robert Brumley and two of his siblings and their children. The children filed a lawsuit against Robert Brumley, arguing that they should be able to get a share of the royalties from the song. They asked the court to terminate the copyrights to the song, which was being held by a company owned by Robert Brumley.

“I’ll Fly Away” was featured in the movie “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou” and is one of the most recorded gospel songs of all time. “I’ll Fly Away” has been recorded and performed by artists from many different types of music genres, including rapper Kanye West, Johnny Cash, blues and jazz singer Etta James, and Christian band Jars of Clay.

The song has generated about $1.4 million in royalties between 2004 and the third quarter of 2009, the last years referenced in court records.

Albert Brumley Sr. began writing the song in 1928 or 1929 while picking cotton on his parent’s Oklahoma farm. He copyrighted the song and renewed the copyright in 1960. In between, he sold the song to Hartford Music Company, then bought the copyrights of Hartford Music a few years later.

Brumley ultimately sold the publishing and exploitation rights to “I’ll Fly Away” along with his publishing company, Brumley & Sons, two of his children, William and Robert, for $100,000, in 1975. The elder Brumley died in 1977, leaving his wife Goldie and their six children as survivors.

Goldie Brumley became the sole inheritor of all his property, including any interest in any copyrights. She sold her interest in the music to Brumley & Sons for $1 in 1979. Seven years later, Robert Brumley bought out his brother for $240,000 and took sole possession of the musical inventory. Goldie Brumley died in 1988.

In April 2006, Brumley’s four other children sought to terminate the 1975 transfer of rights from their father to their brother. Robert Brumley objected, sparking the lawsuit between family members.




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