He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother

This is one of my favourite songs:

(Apologies, youtube will redirect you to another page for Sony’s copyright reasons)

Please watch this wonderful performance of it by The Hollies, it really is the best version of this many covered song. It always brings a tear to my eyes. What follows is a condensate of wikipedia.

It is a popular music ballad written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell. Scott and Russell had been introduced to each other by Johnny Mercer, at a California nightclub. Despite the fact that Russell was dying of cancer of the lymph nodes and that the pair met in person only three times, they managed to collaborate on the song….

Father Edward J. Flanagan, the founder of Boys Town came across a line drawing of a young boy carrying his brother in the Christmas 1941 edition of the Louis Allis Messenger. The caption read “He ain’t heavy Mister — he’s m’ brother!” It was created by Mr. Van B. Hooper who later became the editor of Ideals magazine. The drawing was reprinted in the first issue of Ideals in December 1944. Fr Flanagan felt that the drawing illustrated the work done at Boys Town and received permission from the company in August 1943 to recreate the drawing in color with the caption “He ain’t heavy, Father . . . he’s m’ brother.” The phrase became the motto of Boys Town. In an 1918 publication by Ralph Waldo Trine titled “The Higher Powers of Mind and Spirit” he relates the following anecdote: “Do you know that incident in connection with the little Scottish girl? She was trudging along, carrying as best she could a boy younger, but it seemed almost as big as she herself, when one remarked to her how heavy he must be for her to carry, when instantly came the reply: ‘He’s na heavy. He’s mi brither.'”

The statement is an (unwitting) use of paraprosdokian, a figure of speech in which the second half of the statement causes the hearer to reinterpret the first part. Often used for comedic effect, this is a rare use of the form as pathos.

Whatever its origins, I still think and feel that this is a great song, and it contains rich and true Christian sentiments. I confess to being a big softie, and I sing this song to myself whenever I am carrying a brother or sister across a hard breach.


About Brother Burrito

A sinner who hopes in God's Mercy, and who cannot stop smiling since realizing that Christ IS the Way , the Truth and the Life. Alleluia!
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3 Responses to He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother

  1. Mimi says:

    Dear BB, once again I feel you are a kindred spirit!

    I would like to second every single word of your post (except for the stuff from Wikipedia, of course, which was all news to me 😉 ).

  2. leftfooter says:

    Beautiful. Thank you and God bless.

  3. Rob Hooper says:

    Van Hooper was my grandfather and I have a copy of the original Louis Allis Messenger that my grandfather was the editor of during WWII. The Messenger was the first publishing of the drawing referenced above. The Messenger became the basis of Ideals magazine at the end of WWII.

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