Tuesday, March 18, 2008

America Must Pray - Thomas Andrew Dorsey

Born of a black Baptist preacher in rural Georgia, Dorsey was inspired by the music of the blues, music that was full of soul, anguish, and emotion. Always attracted to easy money he lived a hard life with the roughest of crowds.

In the 1920s however he had a life-changing experience. After a musical engagement he went home after becoming terribly ill. He lost weight and his mother and wife Nettie went through their savings trying to help. But the doctors had given up. His pastor had no mercy on him and told him he had to get right with God. Dorsey cried out: “Lord, I am ready to do your work!” In a few days a miracle had happened and he was on the mend. He and his wife continually prayed and soon he was on the road to perform his music for the Lord in churches.

While performing at a church in St. Louis he was told Nettie had died while giving birth to their first child. Dorsey later wrote that he slumped down in a chair and cried and cried. He arrived home in time to be told that a few hours previously the baby had died. He admitted later that he came closer to rejecting God than at anytime. “God I set out to serve you and this is my reward?”

Fighting through grieve he placed his wife and the baby in the same casket. “I felt God had done me an injustice. I didn’t want to serve the Lord or write more gospel songs.” But something happened! He sat down and suddenly it came to him: “Precious Lord, Take My Hand!” Within a short time he had written one of the most touching hymns of grief and comfort ever penned!

Precious Lord, taken 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.

When my way grows drear,

Precious Lord, linger near.
When my life is almost gone,
Hear my cry, hear my call,
Hold my hand, lest I fall;
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home!

The hymn somehow dispelled much of the grief and Dorsey “knew that He had other work for me to do.” Despite the song’s intense spirituality, many people accused Dorsey of secularizing hymns of praise effectively bringing the speakeasy into houses of worship.

“Precious Lord” became one of Dorsey’s most popular songs along with “Peace in the Valley” and “If You See My Savior.” Dorsey was instrumental in starting the first African-American publishing companies dedicated solely for publishing religious music. Mahalia Jackson made
“Precious Lord” her signature song after meeting Dorsey.