Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

"Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" is a popular Christian hymn written in 1907 by Ada R. Habershon with music by Charles H. Gabriel. The song is often recorded unattributed and, because of its age, has lapsed into the public domain. Most of the chorus appears in the later songs "Can the Circle Be Unbroken" and "Daddy Sang Bass".


:There are loved ones in the glory :Whose dear forms you often miss. :When you close your earthly story, :Will you join them in their bliss?


::Will the circle be unbroken ::By and by, by and by? ::Is a better home awaiting ::In the sky, in the sky?

:In the joyous days of childhood :Oft they told of wondrous love :Pointed to the dying Saviour; :Now they dwell with Him above.


:You remember songs of heaven :Which you sang with childish voice. :Do you love the hymns they taught you, :Or are songs of earth your choice?


:You can picture happy gath'rings :Round the fireside long ago, :And you think of tearful partings :When they left you here below.


:One by one their seats were emptied. :One by one they went away. :Now the family is parted. :Will it be complete one day?


The song is generally played to be uplifting to the congregation, and is a frequent standard in gospel revivals.

Other versions

Tune variants

The Ballad Index notes that the tune now commonly sung differs substantially from the original tune by Gabriel. It also notes the first known recording of this variant, by the Metropolitan Quartet in 1927.

Carter version

A reworked version of the song, intended as a funeral hymn, was written by A. P. Carter and released in 1935 by the Carter Family. The Carter version, titled "Can the Circle be Unbroken", uses the same music and the same verse structure but with different verse lyrics and a modified chorus. That version has often been recorded as "Will the Circle be Unbroken", including the 1972 performance by Mother Maybelle Carter and ensemble on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band album of the same title. The original version of the song does not insert "Lord" in lines 2 and 4 of the chorus, though the Carter version does. Also, the third line of the chorus is phrased as a question in the original, but as a declarative sentence in the Carter version, and the Carter version as written begins the chorus with 'Can' instead of 'Will'.

The Carter version is still under copyright.

Less-known versions

  • In 1936, Bill and Charlie Monroe recorded yet a different version.
  • In 1970, the music group The Doors performed their version live in Chicago. Changing the lyrics to "oh, the circle has been broken, me oh my Lord, me oh my."
  • In 1988, folk singers Cathy Winter, Betsy Rose, and Marcia Taylor published an alternate lyric in the collection Rise Up Singing (ed. Peter Blood). A choral arrangement for treble voices was subsequently made by J. David Moore using these lyrics (pub. 2011 Fresh Ayre Music).
  • In 1988, Spacemen 3 released a version of the song titled "May The Circle Be Unbroken" as one of the B-sides on their single "Revolution". Aside from the change in the titular line, it is lyrically identical to the Carter Family version.


  • In 1994, Jello Biafra and Mojo Nixon included a parody "Will the Fetus Be Aborted?" on their album Prairie Home Invasion.
  • In 1999, "Will the Turtle Be Unbroken," a parody, was written and released by Les Barker under the group name The Mrs Ackroyd Band.


  • In 1961, John Lee Hooker recorded a popular version of the song with a drum, bass and guitar band.
  • In 1966, The Staple Singers did a recording on their album "Why".
  • In 1967, Bob Dylan and The Band recorded a version, released in 2014 on The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete.
  • In 1967, The 13th Floor Elevators recorded a version, released in 1969 on Bull of the Woods.
  • In 1971, Pentangle recorded a version included on their album Reflection.
  • In 1971, Leon Russell opened his Homewood sessions recording with the song as the musicians were entering the set.
  • In 1972, The Youngbloods released a version of the song as the B-side to their single, "Light Shine".
  • In 1972, Shocking Blue recorded a version, released on their album Atilla
  • In 1973, Gregg Allman included a version of the song on his first solo album Laid Back.
  • In 1979, George Jones recorded the song as a duet with The Staples Singers for his LP My Very Special Guests.
  • In 1989, The Neville Brothers included a version of the song on their Grammy-winning album Yellow Moon.
  • In 1992, The Wonder Stuff included a version of the song on their EP Welcome to the Cheap Seats.
  • In 2002, The Avett Brothers included a version of the song on their album "Live at the Double Door Inn".
  • In 2009, Richie Havens performed the song in the film Soundtrack for a Revolution.
  • In 2014, Scottish singer Susan Boyle recorded a version as one of her tracks for her sixth studio album, Hope.
  • in 2014, Scottish singer and ex-Mànran front man Norrie MacIver (also of Skipinnish) included the song, as well as a cover in Scottish Gaelic titled "Am bi an Cearcall seo gun Bhristeadh", on his debut solo album, Danns an Rathaid.
  • In 2016, Guadeloupean punk band The Bolokos recorded a version of the song for their first LP.

    In popular culture

    The Pointer Sisters and Nell Carter sing this song in an episode of Gimme a Break! titled "The Return of the Doo-Wop Girls" that originally aired on February 13, 1983.

    The song in its reworked version, "Can the Circle Be Unbroken," appeared in the 2004 film Iron Jawed Angels, although the film's website shows the original song as the title.

    June Carter's rendition of the song plays over the Deadwood season 1 episode 8 closing credits.

    In the film 2012, the song can be heard on the family's way to Yellowstone Park.

    In 2012, Belgian film The Broken Circle Breakdown (also known as Alabama Monroe) used the song on its soundtrack.

    The song is covered in Treme season 2 episode 10, "That's What Lovers Do", at Harley's memorial service.

    A season 3 episode of Pretty Little Liars was titled after the hymn and featured the song within the episode.

    The hymn is sung every year at the Country Music Hall of Fame, at the conclusion of each medallion induction ceremony. It is performed by the inductees of that respective year as well as any previously inducted members of the Hall of Fame who are present.

    Two versions of the hymn are featured in the soundtrack for the 2013 video game BioShock Infinite: a traditional choir version, performed by Maureen Murphy, and an award-winning acoustic version performed by Troy Baker (guitar) and Courtnee Draper, the voice actors of main characters Booker DeWitt and Elizabeth, respectively. The use of the original lyrics was controversial: some commentators, apparently unaware of the differences between the original and Carter versions, criticized the omission of "Lord" from the chorus as anti-religious censorship. The choice was explained as simply being consistent with the 1912 setting of the game, at which point the word "Lord" had not been added. The song won "the Best Song in a Game" award during the VGX 2013. In March 2013, the score for BioShock Infinite contained "Will the Circle Be Unbroken (choral version)" with Ada Ruth Habershon, Charles Hutchinson Gabriel (2:56) on Track 3.

    Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke joined Willie Nelson onstage to play and sing "Will the Circle be Unbroken?" among other numbers at Nelson's annual 4th of July picnic, in 2018.

    14 July 2019 in Nowlan Park Hurling Stadium in Kilkenny, Ireland Neil Young joined Bob Dylan on stage to play guitar and sing "Will the Circle be Unbroken?" together.