Thursday, August 13, 2009

Precious Lord

One of my favorite old hymns is Precious Lord, take my hand. I got an e-mail recently with the history of the writing of this hymn. Reading this makes the song even more meaningful. It was written by Thomas A. Dorsey, not the famous band leader, but this Tommy Dorsey was known as the father of gospel music. This is what he wrote about composing 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 good-bye, 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 JUST DIED.

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 she died.

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 into 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 power.

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.



Kayren, Pink Daisy Girl said...

I've never heard that story. It's sad, but inspirational at the same time.

Mike Golch said...

Great posting.

Nancy said...

I've heard the story and love to listen to Selah.. Great post.

Demara said...

that is a harsh but also an exciting the end God somehow when we don't knows't he?

Valerie said...

Wow. That really makes you stop and think. So sad but so real. Thank you. By the way, I found you through my friend Kristas blog. I miss her blogging but we all need a break sometime.

Bonnie said...

I've never heard that story before ...

I love that song though and somehow, to know the story behind it makes me love it even more.

Beth (A Mom's Life) said...

What a beautiful story! Thank you so much for sharing it with us!

Brooke said...

how tragic, yet so beautiful.

Pat said...

Typing though tears. Through great adversity, God's glory is shown.
I've never read this story before, thanks for posting it, it's also one of my favorite old songs.

Lois Lane II said...

Wow. I've never heard the story before. Thanks for sharing!

Kim said...

One of my high school friends (in San Diego)just lost his 23 yr. old daughter yesterday (a month after she was in a car accident), so the story and song you posted was very relevant to what I have been wanting to write to him. Thanks for giving me the words to say.


Grandma Elsie said...

I knew the story but had forgotten it. I love this song and love to sing its truths for they do bring comfort.
You have good taste my friend.
Bless you today.
Elsie <><

Heart2Heart said...


What a beautiful story about Tommy Dorsey. I had never heard that before and now I understand why I am so drawn to his music.

Thanks for sharing this story.

Love and Hugs ~ Kat

Aspiemom said...

Never heard that story before.

I really like Selah. I never heard of them before I found Angie's blog.

Kim said...

Beautiful story. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Betty said...

I have goosebumps all over! I had never read this before but have heard the song. It will be special for me too now. What an inspiration!
Thanks for sharing that!

septembermom said...

Thank you for sharing this touching story, Mari. Beautiful.

Mary said...


I also love the hymn and had heard the history of it before. Very sad, but the result was something that has helped people through difficult times.


Crown of Beauty said...

I know this song but I never heard the story about it. What a sad story! For sure it was the Lord telling him to stay with his wife... and he could have listened and been with his wife at her last hours. How sad indeed.

The song is made more precious because of the story behind it.

Thanks for sharing.


Terri said...

I never knew that story either. It's always interesting to know the background to songs - it sheds a whole new light on them.
I also have always loved that song!

Lynn said...

Thanks for sharing this. What an amazing story of how God redeems something truly tragic for His glory.

Rebekah said...

wow- what an incredible story! God is so awsome.

I love your new blog look!

Sandra said...

Well geez, I guess I haven't been by in forever, you changed your look. I love it :)

Hope you're having a good Sunday.

Saija said...

i've never heard that story ... but what a powerful testimony it is!

thanx for posting it!!! most of our old hymns have such human drama behind the writing of them - they aren't "boring, old things" - but reminders of a God who cares for us personally ...

blessings on you!

Patti VZ said...

Thanks for the story behind the song, Mari. That song is very precious to me as we sang it as a family as my brother slowly slipped from this life to heaven after an accident a few years ago.

And nice new skins! Looks good!

Kat said...

Beautiful...the song and the story behind it. Thanks for sharing.

BTW....I love love love your new blog look. So pretty!


Cherdecor said...

What a great story! I don't know why the most beautiful music comes out of pain.

I love your new look on this blog! I remember seeing the photos you took. Great job!

Raise Them Up said...

Thank you so much for sharing that. I've always liked this hymn too, and knowing the story behind it makes it even more meaningful.

I love your new look, btw! It is beautiful!

Raise Them Up said...

Thank you so much for sharing that. I've always liked this hymn too, and knowing the story behind it makes it even more meaningful.

I love your new look, btw! It is beautiful!

Shelly said...

Love this song too and that story touched my heart. I borrowed this from you to post on some of my other places. Thanks! Glad you had a nice vacation and seeing Andy.
OH, Happy Anniversary by the way too.