Sunday, May 26, 2013

Reverend Dorsey - Father of Gospel Music

Tommy always loved music. Born in 1899, he displayed an early and keen interest in the songs he heard played in church, and even at home. Eventually he would make it to Chicago and study at the Chicago College of Composition and Arranging, but before that he was playing piano in a vaudeville act. After his graduation from the College, he became a fairly well known jazz pianist, playing under the name of Georgia Tom. This was prior to the 1920’s, when Tommy gave his life to Jesus. He was 22 years old at the time.

Leaving the jazz clubs behind him, he began his career as a composer, writing gospel songs. He also became a director of church music, meaning that he wielded great influence over which gospel songs were disseminated to the many churches across the country.

By the 1930’s; whether by design or co-incidence, Tommy had become the Reverend Dorsey; leading a flock of his own. It was during a service in 1932 when his life took a tragic turn. While preaching to the congregation he was approached in the pulpit by a church member who handed him a telegram informing the Reverend that his wife had died in childbirth. Within 24 hours he would also lose his newborn child. He began to doubt his faith in God and fell into a deep depression, vowing to never write another gospel song. But someone had other plans for Reverend Tommy.

Within a week of the events described above, the Reverend was seated at a friend’s piano, and realizing that he was now all alone in the world, wrote the song that would change his life, and influence gospel music in such a way that Tommy would someday become known as the “father” of modern gospel music. Finding his place on the keyboard, he began the familiar chords of an 1844 hymn by George N. Allen, titled “Maitland”. This melody would become the basis for the words of the song he was about to write.

Enveloped by what he would later term a “perfect peace”, he wrote the lyrics in a matter of minutes; with the words coming to him all at once. That song would become the iconic gospel hit “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”, which has been published in 40 languages and become a staple of the gospel music scene. It has been recorded by everyone from Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, Little Jimmie Dickens, Al Green, Ike and Tina Turner, Merle Haggard, Elvis, and even Jimmy Durante. The song has also been featured in films such as “Cool Hand Luke.”

The song not only restored  the Reverends faith in God;  but it also prompted him to write many more gospel songs, including “Peace in the Valley”, which was recorded by the Sunshine Boys in 1951 and became the first gospel song to sell over one million copies.  

Precious Lord Take My Hand by Reverend Thomas A. Dorsey  (1932)

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.
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:

When the darkness appears
And the night draws near,
And the day is past and gone,
At the river I stand,
Guide my feet, hold my hand.

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