Patty Griffin wrote this moving and emotional contemporary folk song, which has become very popular and meaningful. "Up to the Mountain" first appeared in public during Griffin's concert appearances in the spring of 2005, and was first recorded by the Soul artist Solomon Burke on his September 2006 album Nashville with Griffin singing backup. The following year, Griffin included the song on her album Children Running Through.
Born in Old Town, Maine as the youngest child in a family with six older siblings, Griffin is known for writing very heartfelt songs that let her vocal range truly stand out. Her songs have been covered by a number of artists, including Emmylou Harris and Dixie Chicks. In 2010, Patty toured with Robert Plant's Band of Joy and co-wrote the song "Ohio." She and Plant were married in 2012.
The song is a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was based off of a very powerful speech he made, which was titled "I've Been to the Mountaintop." He delivered the speech in 1968, the day before he was assassinated at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee. This speech speaks to his strong views toward peace and perseverance, as King is waiting for a change. It was the last speech that Dr. King gave before he was killed.
Solomon Burke, who first recorded this song, had known King.
The song was brought to the attention of a nationwide American audience when Kelly Clarkson performed it, backed by Jeff Beck on guitar, on a charity episode of American Idol entitled Idol Gives Back in April 2007. After its television airing the Clarkson/Beck version debuted at #56 on the Billboard Hot 100. The British sensation Susan Boyle recorded the song on her album I Dreamed A Dream, and American Idol contestant Crystal Bowersox also performed the song on the show in 2010. After Bowersox finished the show as runner-up to Lee DeWyze, her recording was released as a single on May 28, 2010, charting at #57.
The album that the song originally appeared on is called Children Running Through, and it invokes a lot of Patty's childhood. She mentions Maine on a number of occasions and talks about riding a bus to Bangor, a city near where she grew up. She also collaborates with fellow singer-songwriter Emmylou Harris on the album, particularly with the song "Trapeze." Her songs on the album, in addition to "Up To The Mountain," tend to have positive messages and uplifting themes, especially with "No Bad News" and "I Don't Ever Give Up."
The album won Album of the Year from the American Music Association.
When asked about what the song means to her, Susan Boyle said: "Reassurance, love and the ability to keep going no matter what 'slings and arrows of outrageous fortune' life throws at you. God is our Light."
Griffin's version appeared in an episode of the hit TV series Grey's Anatomy in 2008 during an episode titled "Lay Your Hands On Me."