Precious Lord, Take my Hand

George Nelson Allen’s tune was “Maitland” from the hymn Must Jesus bear the cross alone in Oberlin Social and Sabbath Hymn Book 1844i4

Henry Ward Beecher was born on June 24, 1813, in Litchfield, Connecticut. His father, Lyman Beecher, placed a heavy emphasis on education. He was a Congregational minister and dedicated his life to spreading God’s word and to helping others. Lyman instilled his beliefs into his son. Henry graduated from Amherst College in 1834. He then entered Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio. His father served as Lane’s president. Upon completing his education at Lane Theological Seminary, Beecher accepted a position as a Presbyterian minister in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, and then in Indianapolis. After spending eight years in Indianapolis, Beecher had developed a reputation for his oratorical skills. In his sermons, he vehemently attacked drinking and slavery. He also called for more rights for women with men. As the North and South grew further apart during the 1850s, some ministers condoned violence to settle the differences between the two regions. Beecher so opposed slavery that, following passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, he sent rifles to anti-slavery forces participating in “Bleeding Kansas.” These guns became known as “Beecher’s bibles,” because they arrived in Kansas in crates marked “bibles.” During the American Civil War, Beecher’s church equipped an entire regiment of Union soldiers. The entire Beecher family opposed slavery. Beecher’s sister was Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Beecher’s oratorical skills caused the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, New York, to offer him a position as minister in 1847. He accepted and quickly attracted as many as 2,500 congregants to his Sunday services. Many of his congregants agreed with his views, but Beecher still experienced a lot of controversy because of his beliefs. Not all white Northerners favored abolition or equal rights for women with men. During the 1870s, Beecher found himself involved in a scandal. Church member Theodore Tilton accused the minister of having an affair with his wife. A six-month trial occurred, which resulted in a hung jury. The Plymouth Church directors concluded that Beecher was innocent of the accusation, and he remained minister of the church until his death on March 8, 1887.i6

Thomas A. Dorsey (father of the modern gospel) wrote this song just a few days after the death of his wife and their infant son, while he was away on a gospel music tour. He said: “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.” A friend helped him and encouraged him to return to the piano.. As he began to play, he once again felt close to God and the words, “precious lord, take my hand,” came to him. The music is Dorsey’s arrangement of a melody by George Nelson, professor of sacred music and geology at Oberlin college, and a prime mover in the establishment of the Oberlin conservatory of music in 1865.i1

Thomas Andrew Dorsey  (1899 – 1993)
(born July 1, 1899, Villa Rica, Georgia; died January 23, 1993, Chicago, Illinois)

Thomas 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.i2

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
Take my hand, precious Lord,
Lead me home.
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
Take my hand, precious Lord,
Lead me home.

Words of the original Hymn “Must Jesus bear the cross alone”:
Stanza 1: Thomas Shepherd, Penitential Cries, 1693, alt.
Stanza 2: apparently from a missionary collection published in Norwich, England, early 19th Century.
Stanza 3: The Oberlin Social and Sabbath School Hymn Book, by George N. Allen, 1844.
Stanzas 4-5: From the Plymouth Collection of Hymns and Tunes, by Henry W. Beecher (New York: AMS. Barnes and Burr, 1855).
Music: Maitland, George N. Allen, in The Oberlin Social and Sabbath Hymn Book, 1844. i5

Must Jesus bear the cross alone,
And all the world go free?
No, there’s a cross for everyone,
And there’s a cross for me.
How happy are the saints above,
Who once went sorrowing here!
But now they taste unmingled love,
And joy without a tear.
The consecrated cross I’ll bear
Till death shall set me free;
And then go home my crown to wear,
For there’s a crown for me.
Upon the crystal pavement down
At Jesus’ piercèd feet,
Joyful I’ll cast my golden crown
And His dear Name repeat.
O precious cross! O glorious crown!
O resurrection day!
When Christ the Lord from Heav’n comes down
And bears my soul away.

Sources (internet):