“The Christian’s ‘Good Night’” was published as a poem in 1871 by Sarah Doudney, English children’s writer, novelist and poet. In 1886 it was put to music by well-known hymn composer, Ira Sankey. The hymn had some initial popularity as a funeral hymn and the first lines of the poem were, for a time, popularly used as a memorial inscription on gravestones.
The hymn was sung at the funeral of Charles Haddon Spurgeon in 1892, but then faded into some degree of obscurity.
In 1959, Folkways records issued an album featuring the music of Joseph Spence, a stonemason and guitarist, discovered on the island of Andros in the Bahamas, and recorded on his front porch. Included was the track
“Lay Down My Brother (I Bid You Good Night),”
A later version of the song was recorded featuring Spence and his sister, Edith Pinder, along with her family. The Pinder Family version of the song became somewhat well-known in folk music circles in the United States where many people assumed it was an indigenous Bahamian folk song.
In 1968 The Incredible String Band released an album The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter that included a version of the song in a longer work entitled "A Very Cellular Song."
By the late 1960s The Grateful Dead were closing their concerts with
based on that of the Pinder Family. In 1991 Aaron Neville included
on the folk version of the song on his “Warm Your Heart” recording. The song has also been featured on
Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion.”
For the last half century, the folk version is the one you are most likely to hear, but the original is presented here. Feel free to modify it to suit your taste!
Doudney’s other hymn that continues to be sung today is “The Master Hath Come,” sung to the Welsh folk melody “The Ash Grove.”