First published in the hymnal Spirituals Triumphant, Old and New in 1927, this traditional gospel song broke into the mainstream when 13-year-old British singer Laurie London released an uptempo take in 1957. It went to #1 in 1958 on the newly minted Billboard Hot 100, making London the first British artist to top the tally. The single also holds the record as the only gospel tune to take the #1 spot. In addition to its pop success, it landed at #3 on the R&B chart.
As the title implies, the song is a reminder that God is in control of all aspects of his creation and we should take comfort in his presence. From the birds in the air and the fish in the sea to "little bitsy babies" and grown-up gamblin' men, everything is in his hands. Different versions add more to God's grasp, including the sun and the moon, the land and the sea, and the wind and the rain. God's mighty rulership is mentioned throughout the Bible, including Job 12:10, which states: "In his hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of every human being."
Frank Warner, a folklorist and singer, happened upon the song in North Carolina in 1933 and introduced it to the American folk circuit throughout the '30s and '40s. He recorded it for the 1952 album American Folk Songs and Ballads.
Many gospel and soul singers connected with the message that God is present through all of our struggles, and released their own renditions, including Mahalia Jackson - whose popular version hit #69 on the Hot 100 in 1958 - Marian Anderson, Nina Simone, Odetta, James Booker, and The Sisters of Glory. It was also recorded by pop singers Andy Williams and Pat Boone, among others.
British songwriters Jack Waller and Ralph Reader used the song in their 1956 musical, Wild Grows The Heather. They're credited as writers, under the pseudonyms Robert Lindon and William Henry, on London's version.
Bandleader Geoff Love arranged London's rendition and performed on the record with his orchestra. He went on to back British Invasion duo Peter & Gordon on their first two hits "A World Without Love
" and "Nobody I Know."
This was used in several movies including Tootsie (1982, sung by Dustin Hoffman), Roxanne (1987), starring Steve Martin, Dave (1993, sung by Kevin Kline), Con Air (1997, sung by Steve Buscemi), and RocketMan (1997, sung by Harland Williams).