Take My Hand, Precious Lord - Thomas A. Dorsey with Marion WilliamsThomas A. Dorsey learned his religion from his Baptist minister father and piano from his music teacher mother in Villa Rica, Georgia, where he was born July 1, 1899. He came under the influence of local blues pianist when they moved to Atlanta in 1910.
He and his family relocated to Chicago during World War I where they joined the Pilgrim Baptist Church, and he studied at the Chicago College of Composition and Arranging and became an agent for Paramount Records.
He began his musical career known as Georgia Tom, playing barrelhouse piano in one of Al Capone's Chicago speakeasies and leading Ma Rainey's Jazz band. He hooked up with slide guitarist Hudson Tampa Red Whittaker with whom he recorded the best selling blues hit, "Tight Like That," in 1928 and wrote more than 460 Rhythm and Blues and Jazz songs.
He was soon whipped into shape to do the Lords will. Discouraged by his own efforts to publish and sell his songs through the old method of peddled song sheets and dissatisfied with the treatment given composers of race music by the music publishing industry, Dorsey became the first independent publisher of black Gospel music with the establishment of the Dorsey House of music in Chicago in 1932.
He also founded and became the President of the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses. He wrote his classic and most famous song, "Precious Lord" in the grief following the death of his first wife in childbirth in 1932.
It since has been recorded by such diverse artists as Mahalia Jackson, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and Elvis Presley, and was the favorite Gospel song of both Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who asked that it be sung at the rally he led the night before his assassination, and of President Lyndon B. Johnson who requested that it be sung at his funeral.
Almost equally well known is his "Peace in the Valley," which he wrote for Mahalia Jackson in 1937. In October of 1979, he was the first black elected to the Nashville Songwriters International Hall of Fame.
In September 1981, his native Georgia honored him with election to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame; in March 1982, he was the first black elected to the Gospel Music Association's Living Hall of Fame; in August 1982, the Thomas A. Dorsey Archives were opened at Fisk University where his collection joined those of W. C. Handy, George Gershwin, and the Jubilee Singers.
Summing up his life, he says all his work has been from God, for God, and for his people.
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"Take my hand precious lord" by Thomas A. Dorsey ( • )
Artist Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey
The Birth of the Hymn, "Precious Lord"
Back in 1932, I was a fairly new husband. My wife,
Nettie and I were living in a little apartment on
Chicago's south side. One hot August afternoon I had to
go to St. Louis where I was to be the featured soloist
at a large revival meeting. I didn't want to go; Nettie
was in the last month of pregnancy with our first
child, but a lot of people were expecting me in St.
Louis. I kissed Nettie goodbye, clattered downstairs to
our Model A, and in a fresh Lake Michigan breeze
chugged out of Chicago on Route 66.
However, outside the city, I discovered that in my
anxiety at leaving, I had forgotten my music case. I
wheeled around and headed back.
I found Nettie sleeping peacefully. I hesitated by her
bed; something was strongly telling me to stay, but
eager to get on my way, and not wanting to disturb
Nettie, I shrugged off the feeling and quietly slipped
out of the room with my music.
The next night, in the steaming St. Louis heat, the
crowd called on me to sing again and again. When I
finally sat down, a messenger boy ran up with a Western
Union telegram. I ripped open the envelope....
Pasted on the yellow sheet were the words: "YOUR WIFE
People were happily singing and clapping around me, but
I could hardly keep from crying out. I rushed to a
phone and called home. All I could hear on the other
end was "Nettie is dead. Nettie is dead.'"
When I got back, I learned that Nettie had given birth
to a boy. I swung between grief and joy. Yet that same
night, the baby died. I buried Nettie and our little
boy together, in the same casket. Then I fell apart.
For days I closeted myself. I felt that God had done me
an injustice. I didn't want to serve Him anymore or
write gospel songs; I just wanted to go back to that
jazz world I once knew so well. But then, as I hunched
alone in that dark apartment those first sad days, I
thought back to the afternoon I went to St. Louis.
Something kept telling me to stay with Nettie. Was that
something, God? Oh, if I had paid more attention to Him
that day, I would have stayed and been with Nettie when
From that moment on I vowed to listen more closely to
Him. But still I was lost in grief. Everyone was kind
to me, especially one friend. The following Saturday
evening he took me up to Maloney's Poro College, a
neighborhood music school. It was quiet; the late
evening sun crept through the curtained windows.
I sat down at the piano, and my hands began to browse
over the keys. Something happened to me then. I felt at
peace. I felt as though I could reach out and touch
God. I found myself playing a melody. Once in my head
they just seemed to fall into place:
'Precious Lord, take my hand,
Lead me on, let me stand,
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn;
Through the storm, through the night,
Lead me on to the light:
Take my hand, precious Lord,
Lead me home.'
The Lord gave me these words and melody, He also healed
my spirit. I learned that when we are in our deepest
grief, when we feel farthest from God, this is when He
is closest, and when we are most open to His restoring
And so I go on living for God willingly and joyfully,
until that day comes when He will take me and gently
lead me home.
-- Tommy Dorsey
For those too young to know who he is, Tommy Dorsey was
a well-known band leader in the 1930's and 40's.
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