STORY BEHIND THE SONG: A look ‘Beyond the Sunset’
Destin is known to have some of the most beautiful sunsets in the world. But have you ever wondered what’s beyond the last colors and rays of the day as it gives way to night? Beyond that sunset?
Lyricist Virgil Brock and his composer wife, Blanche, tried to answer this question in 1936 in their song, “Beyond the Sunset.”
Virgil was born in 1887 in a rural community in Ohio to devoted Quaker parents. At 16, he accepted Christ personally during a church revival meeting, felt the call for Christian service and was ordained a minister of the Christian church at age 19.
In 1914, while serving in Greens Fork, Indiana, Virgil met and married a talented singer and pianist, Blanche Kerr. She was born in 1888 in Greens Fork, the daughter of Dr. James Kerr, and attended the Indianapolis Conservatory of Music and the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago. They became a team, serving together in the Christian church and writing more than 500 gospel songs before her death in 1958. Virgil died in 1978 at the age of 91. A large monument at Warsaw-Winona Lake cemetery, with the words and music of “Beyond the Sunset” engraved in stone, stands as a tribute to the couple.
Their most famous song, “Beyond the Sunset” has sold thousands of records and been recorded by performers such as Hank Williams Sr., Pat Boone, Red Foley, George Younce and Slim Whitman. Some of their other songs include “He’s a Wonderful Savior to Me,” “Resting in His Love” and “Let God Have His Way.”
Although Virgil didn’t know music theory and needed Blanche to write the melodies for their songs, he was awarded an honorary degree of sacred music from Trinity College in Dunedin, Florida, in recognition of his 50 years of gospel songwriting.
Beyond the Sunset
During the summer of 1936, the Brocks were visiting Horace Rodeheaver at the Rodeheaver School of Music at Winona Lake, Indiana. One evening, the guests viewed a most spectacular sunset and could not stop talking about its incredible beauty. A large area of the water appeared to be “ablaze with the glory of God, yet there were storm clouds gathering overhead.”
As the guests were having dinner, Virgil’s cousin Horace Burr, blind since birth, spoke with great excitement, saying he had never seen such a beautiful sunset. One of the guests asked how it was possible for him to see the sunset. Burr’s reply was, “I see through other people's eyes, and I think I often see more — I see beyond the sunset.”
Virgil wrote of the event:
“Someone then raised the question, ‘I wonder what’s beyond all of this?’ Immediately, the answer began to form in my mind. I reasoned — Horace Burr had never seen the glory of an earthly sunset, yet was blessed as we tried to describe it to him — so we too, as Christians, have never seen what is beyond, but God in his love and promise, has told us in the Bible of the glory that is awaiting us beyond.”
Blanche wrote about the song, “The phrase ‘beyond the sunset’ and the striking inflection of (Burr’s) voice struck me so forcibly, I began singing the first few measures. We then went to the piano and completed the first verse.”
“Beyond the sunset, O blissful morning,
When with our Savior heav’n is begun;
Earth’s toiling ended, O glorious dawning —
Beyond the sunset when day is done.”
When Burr heard the verse the Brocks had written, he urged them to write a verse about the storm clouds, and the words for the second verse came quickly to the couple.
“Beyond the sunset, no clouds will gather,
No storms will threaten, no fears annoy;
O day of gladness, O day unending,
Beyond the sunset eternal joy!”
As the Brocks remembered how closely Burr had walked with his wife, hand in hand, for so many years due to his blindness, the third verse was soon added.
“Beyond the sunset, a hand will guide me
To God the Father whom I adore;
His glorious presence, His words of welcome,
Will be my portion on that fair shore.”
Before dinner was over, the fourth stanza had been added, and the song was complete and ready for publication.
“Beyond the sunset, O glad reunion
With our dear loved ones who’ve gone before;
In that fair homeland we’ll know no parting —
Beyond the sunset forevermore!”