In the 1945 Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical Carousel (US/UK), Nettie Fowler sings “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to comfort and encourage her cousin Julie Jordan after Julie’s husband, Billy Bigelow, has committed suicide. The song, a sweeping anthem of hope and resilience, is later reprised in a rousing finale performed by the whole cast.
The message of the song – that we triumph over struggle with the memory and support of our loved ones – touched wartime audiences when the musical premiered in April 1945, and it continues to hugely resonate with audiences today.
Since its first recording, by Frank Sinatra in 1945, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” has been reinterpreted by many musicians and singers, including Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand and Lana Del Rey.
In the UK, the Liverpudlian band Gerry and the Pacemakers covered the song and released it as a single in 1963. The single achieved great success, reaching the top of the UK chart. The gentle and soothing rendition was the band’s third consecutive number one hit.
The song’s success has moved into the sports world – “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was adopted by the Liverpool Football Club as its anthem. Though explanations vary, the accepted version of the story is that lead singer Gerry Marsden introduced the song to club manager Bill Shankly during a pre-season trip in 1963. Reportedly, Shankly was ‘in awe of what he heard’. Journalists covering the trip quickly shared the news of the song being selected as the new club anthem, and soon fans were singing it at matches.
The sensation of footballers chanting with their supporters in a huge stadium inspired the British progressive rock group Pink Floyd include the song in one of their tracks. They sampled a crowd chanting “You’ll Never Walk Alone” in their song “Fearless” on the 1971 album Meddle.
To mark their 100th anniversary, the Liverpool Football Club commissioned a new crest for the 1992-93 season. The updated crest features the title of the club’s anthem beneath the Anfield Stadium’s Shankly Gates, firmly establishing the song’s prominence in the club’s identity.
Meanwhile, the Celtic Football Club (based in Glasgow) also adopted the song around the same time as the Liverpool FC. There was a debate between the teams as to which team was the first.
The song gained new symbolism of resilience in the British public, as it reached the top of the UK chart again 1985. Gerry Marsden recorded a special version with the Crowd, a charity supergroup formed specially to raise funds in the wake of the Bradford City stadium fire, in which 56 people died. The single made Marsden the first person ever to top the UK charts with two versions of the same song.
The lyrics and the themes of the song also held an eminent place after the Hillsborough disaster. In 1989, a fatal human crush occurred during an FA Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield. Hundreds were injured, and 96 people lost their lives. On the day after the tragedy, a choir boy sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at a memorial service with an attendance of 13,000 people – 5,000 in the church and 8,000 spilling into the streets outside. The remarkable performance “offered both comfort and hope to a city in mourning”. The tragedy was followed by a 25-year legal battle, which concluded that the victims were unlawfully killed, and the unorganised rescue efforts contributed to their deaths.
Fast-forward to the 21st century… the song reappeared in the UK chart. During the height of the first Covid-19 lockdown in April 2020, Captain Tom Moore recorded a cover of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” with musical theatre star Michael Ball and the NHS Voice of Care Choir to raise money for the NHS. This version became the fastest-selling single of 2020, with 82,000 copies sold. At the age of 99, Captain Tom subsequently became the oldest artist to claim a UK No. 1 single. (He initially gained the nation’s attention when he raised more than £30 million for the NHS by taking walks around his garden.)
According to Co-op Funeralcare, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” has topped the list of songs played in funerals. In 2021, the song was played at an estimated 9,500 funerals in the UK. Clearly, the song struck a chord with a lot of people after the difficult pandemic.
Recently, in November 2022, the song was performed by the members of the English National Opera Chorus, along with the staff and supporters of the opera house, in a protest against the Arts Council England’s national portfolio funding plan. The protest took place outside the Arts Council England London office. The song provided an anchor for the participants to express their demands and passion for protecting the opera company.
More than 75 years after its premiere on Broadway, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” continues to inspire people all over the world. Whether you’re a musical theatre fan, a football fan, or a pop music fan, you can still take comfort in this Rodgers & Hammerstein classic, confident in your power to “walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart.”
Header image: 2018 Broadway Production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel (Julieta Cervantes)