The time was the 1920’s. During those hardscrabble years leading up to the Depression, there was a husband, his wife, and her sister who were trying to make a go of it by singing the songs of the mountain people of rural southwest Virginia. They released a song that has been found in a hymnal from the latter part of the nineteenth century. The first verse of the song goes like this:
There’s a dark and a troubled side of life, There’s a bright and a sunny side too. Tho’ we meet with the darkness and strife, The sunny side we also may view.
Fast forward to the year 2000. The song, Keep on the Sunny Side, is included in the soundtrack of the movie, O Brother Where Art Thou? The movie is popular but the success of the soundtrack is off the charts. It takes the music industry by surprise, claims the number one spot on the Billboard album charts, sells 4.5 million copies, and wins a number of Grammy awards, including the prestigious Album of the Year. What makes all of this somewhat curious is that the album contains very few new songs and a positively old style of music (traditional bluegrass).
Why the popularity (which incidentally triggers a resurgence in popular bluegrass music)? Critics pointed to the unvarnished honesty of the music. T. Bone Burnett, the soundtrack’s producer, links it with a “groundswell for authenticity.” I think they’re right but it seems to me that’s only half the story. It’s more than just the refusal to gloss over the harsh realities of life, it’s the quiet confidence and hope that shines through the music. Though times were tough and about to get tougher, nothing could shake the sure faith and optimism born out of the hope that comes from Jesus. Consider the song’s final verse:
The storm and its fury broke today, Crushing hopes that we cherish so dear; Clouds and storms will, in time, pass away The sun again will shine bright and clear. Let us greet with the song of hope each day ‘Tho the moment be cloudy or fair, Let us trust in our Savior away Who keepeth everyone in His care.
The music of the Carter family may or may not be your kind of music, but for those who belong to Jesus, it’s definitely our kind of song!