Chart placements, annual sales and streaming numbers, and glowing reviews aren’t the true testament to the importance of a piece of music. Time is. Over time, the fortitude of a song or album is tested rigorously, either becoming a product of its era and dated, or forged over a prolonged period to be rendered timeless. Vince Gill’s song “Go Rest High On That Mountain” is one of the latter, rising to become one of those songs audiences will be listening to 100 years from now.
It wasn’t a hit when it was released in 1995. “Go Rest High On That Mountain” stalled at #14 on the charts. And this was during the peak of Vince Gill’s commercial era. 21 of the 23 songs Gill released between 1990 and 1998 hit the Top 10, including 11 songs that were either #1 or #2. “Go Rest High On That Mountain” was the outlier. But on August 2nd, 2023 the song became Vince Gill’s first ever Certified Platinum single via the RIAA.
Gill has three Platinum Certified albums, but this is a first for one of his songs.
“Go Rest High On That Mountain” was written by Vince Gill himself, and was recorded in 1994 to appear on his album When Love Finds You. But Gill had started to write the song many years before, in 1989 after the tragic death of Keith Whitley. He never quite got the song to where he wanted it to be though, and it remained on the shelf. It was the death of Gill’s older brother Bob in 1993 that inspired him to pick the song back up and complete it.
Neither Keith Whitley nor brother Bob are named in the song directly. Whitley is alluded to though, with his song “I’m No Stranger To The Rain” referenced in the first verse. But the ambiguity is one of the many elements that has helped “Go Rest High On That Mountain” to become so favored by people looking to pick out the perfect song for a funeral. It was also one of the reasons that when it was released in 1995, it somewhat failed to resonate with people. It just felt too dour, too morbid for country radio at that time.
The song was recorded with harmony vocals from Ricky Skaggs and Patty Loveless, both of whom were from Whitley’s native Kentucky. Ricky Skaggs had grown up with Whitley, and the two got their start in country music when they auditioned for Ralph Stanley’s band and won spots. Skaggs and Whitley also played in J.D. Crowe’s band The New South, though at separate times. Vince Gill and Ricky Skaggs had also been in a band together in the ’70s called Boone Creek.
Patty Loveless and Ricky Skaggs reprised their roles in the music video for the song, which was filmed at the Ryman Auditorium. In 1995, the Ryman was mostly shuttered and abandoned, making the appearance of the Mother Church in the video much more rare than it is today. Though a silhouetted woman plays the crucial fiddle part in the video, in the studio it was performed by Stuart Duncan.
Despite “Go Rest High On That Mountain” facing headwinds commercially, it was recognized by peers and critics as a landmark song immediately. In 1996, it won Best Male Country Vocal Performance and Best Country Song from the Grammy Awards, as well as the CMA Song of the Year. Soon after, the song began to be selected for the eulogies of country fans and their families.
But the song still remained more in the domain of dedicated country music fans arguably until May 2, 2013, when Vince Gill performed the song with Patty Loveless by his side at the funeral for George Jones at the Grand Ole Opry House. When presented as the penultimate performance of the ceremony—and with Gill struggling to make it through—it solidified its place in the pantheon of American eulogies, and perhaps as one of the greatest country songs of all time.
The legacy and appreciation for “Go Rest High On That Mountain” has only grown since then, making it arguably one of the signature songs from Country Music Hall of Famer Vince Gill, and one of the signature songs of country music. Even people who are not fans of country music have heard the song at a funeral, and it still resonates with them whenever they hear it.
The legacy of “Go Rest High On That Mountain” is one that teaches that country music isn’t just here to entertain. It is here to heal. And few have the healing power, and present such grace and adulation for a fallen friend, loved one, or fellow country great than “Go Rest High On That Mountain.”