J.K. Alwood (1828-1909)
Josiah Kelly (J.K.) Alwood
Unclouded Day (1879)
Arranged by Shawn Kirchner (2010)
“I remember listening to the Staple Singers’ Uncloudy Day, and it was the most mysterious thing I’d ever heard. It was like the fog rolling in. What was that? How do you make that? It just went through me.”
— Bob Dylan
Unclouded Day quickly became a very popular folk hymn in the late 19th century, a staple of many American hymnals. It had a resurgence during the folk era in the 1960s and ’70s, performed by Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and many others and frequently recorded.
Josiah Kelly (J.K.) Alwood was born and raised in Ohio. He started out as a carpenter, but soon began serving as a circuit-riding minister of the United Brethren Church. He was ordained in 1859 and rose to leadership in the North Ohio Conference, serving as a presiding elder for 23 years.
Unclouded Day arose from a particular set of natural phenomena. Alwood described the experience in a letter dated June 5, 1879, to the editor of the Morenci (Michigan) Observer, his hometown newspaper:
As I entered our village from the south, at 12:50 last night, (returning from the discussion at Spring Hill), I saw a rainbow which was caused by the rays of the moon streaming against a shower of rain falling from a dark, dense cloud a short distance beyond the northwestern limits of our sleeping Morenci. The moon was low in the cloudless southeastern sky. It was a new sight to me; and you can scarcely imagine the feeling of solemn joy which came over me as I gazed upon the lovely segment of the bow of promise smiling on our quiet town.
Recalling that experience years later for the Christian Conservator, Alwood wrote that he had gone to bed exhausted and had slept well past dawn. “To awake and look abroad and remember the night was to be filled with sweet melody. A while at the organ brought forth a piece of music now known as The Unclouded Day.” It took him a day and a half to compose the tune and complete the four-stanza hymn.
Composer, arranger, songwriter, singer and pianist Shawn Kirchner is a tenor with the Los Angeles Master Chorale, where he has also served as composer in residence. His arrangement of Unclouded Day is the first movement of Heavenly Home: Three American Songs, his “bluegrass triptych” of traditional American music.
In addition to extensive performing and music writing, Kirchner serves as pianist and organist at the La Verne Church of the Brethren in La Verne, California. In recent years he has been mentored in choral arrangement by Alice Parker.