top of page

Precious Lord, Take My Hand

Precious Lord, Take My Hand

There are many types of music that the church has embraced over the years. I am partial to the traditional hymns but I’ve been reading up on some of the spirituals sung in churches. That has led me to discover Tommy Dorsey, the father of Black Gospel music. He was a jazz artist who became a church choir director and songwriter. Mahalia Jackson sang many of his songs.

In 1932, he was struck by tragedy. He tells his story in his own words:

"Back in 1932 I was 32 years old and a fairly new husband. My wife, Nettie and I were living in a little apartment on Chicago’s Southside. 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 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 JUST DIED.”
"When I got back, I learned that Nettie had given birth to a boy. I swung between grief and joy. Yet that 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 any more or write gospel songs. I just wanted to go back to that jazz world I once knew so well.”
"But still I was lost in grief. Everyone was kind to me, especially a friend, Professor Frye, who seemed to know what I needed. On the following Saturday evening he took me up to Malone’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."

That night, Tommy Dorsey wrote the hymn, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” The song takes the listener through the tumult of pain and grief. We journey with the singer’s cries of weariness and lostness as he reaches out for God’s hand and guidance.

Dorsey’s soulful hymn became a generational song for a black church in an era of pain and anger. Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin and so many others brought soul and life to all who listened. The words open the window into Tommy Dorsey’s soul and speak to each of us who have suffered loss:

51 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page