Precious Lord, Take My Hand

Author: Thomas Andrew Dorsey

(no biographical information available about Thomas Andrew Dorsey.) Go to person page >

Notes

Scripture References:
all st. = Ps. 139:10

In 1932, a week after the death of his wife in childbirth and the subsequent death of his newborn son, Thomas Andrew Dorsey (b. Villa Rica, GA, 1899; d. Chicago, IL, 1993) wrote this text. He also arranged the George N. Allen tune PRECIOUS LORD to match his text. Dorsey is, considered the "father" of the African American gospel tradition (in distinction from the spiritual tradition) and was an active writer in this style from the 1920s through the 1950s. "Precious Lord" is the most popular of the early group of gospel songs that arose in the United States. Martin Luther King, Jr., chose the hymn as one of the "freedom anthems" of the Civil Rights Movement; since that time it has been included in many hymnals.

Given the circumstances surrounding Dorsey's writing of this text, it is not surprising that it has the character of the Old Testament lament psalms: we confess our own helplessness (st. 1), and we utter a cry for divine help (st. 2), but even in the face of death we are confident of God's saving power (st. 3).

Born into a Baptist preacher's family, Dorsey moved to Atlanta when he was five. There he studied music and came under the influence of local blues pianists. He moved to Chicago in 1915, where he studied at the Chicago College of Composition and Arranging and played in nightclubs as "Georgia Tom" or "Barrelhouse Tom," accompanying blues singers such as Tampa Red, Ma Rainey, and Bessie Smith. Because of his skill as composer, arranger, and pianist, he was in great demand. He also formed his own band, Wildcat's Jazz Band. After suffering from a severe illness in 1926, Dorsey became more involved with the Pilgrim Baptist Church and in 1932 began a forty-year tenure as the church's choral director. He wrote at least two hundred gospel songs (his total works number more than a thousand), organized and was president of the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, and frequently directed other ensembles, including the Gospel Choral Union. His gospel songs were popularized by singers such as Mahalia Jackson, Roberta Martin, and Clara Ward.

Liturgical Use:
Similar to uses for Old Testament lament psalms: times of personal tragedy, communal disasters, international conflicts; services in which Christians want to express solidarity with the oppressed and those who experience "the valley of the shadow of death."

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook

Tune

PRECIOUS LORD

Intense spirituality of African American gospel music like PRECIOUS LORD thrives in musical improvisation and flexibility in performance; this is especially true when it is performed by a soloist or a trained choir. When led by improvisation at the keyboard, sing this hymn in unison. Otherwise the c…

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Timeline

Instances

Instances (30)TextImageAudioScoreFlexscore
African American Heritage Hymnal #471Image
Baptist Hymnal 1991 #456TextImage
Baptist Hymnal 2008 #450TextImage
Celebrating Grace Hymnal #400Image
Celebration Hymnal #684Image
Chalice Hymnal #628Text
Christian Worship: a Lutheran hymnal #451Text
Common Praise (1998) #509
Evangelical Lutheran Worship #773Image
Gather (3rd ed.) #955Image
Gather Comprehensive #874Text
Gather Comprehensive, Second Edition #847
Glory to God: the Presbyterian Hymnal #834TextImageAudio
Lead Me, Guide Me (2nd ed.) #780
Lift Every Voice and Sing II: an African American hymnal #106Text
Lift Up Your Hearts: psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs #465ImageAudio
Lutheran Service Book #739Text
Presbyterian Hymnal: hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs #404TextImage
Psalter Hymnal (Gray) #493TextImageAudio
Sing Joyfully #494TextImage
The Covenant Hymnal: a worshipbook #413
The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration #463
The New Century Hymnal #472Image
The United Methodist Hymnal #474TextImage
The Worshiping Church #638TextImage
Voices United: The Hymn and Worship Book of The United Church of Canada #670Text
With One Voice #731Text
Wonder, Love, and Praise: a supplement to the Hymnal 1982 #800Text
Worship and Rejoice #500TextImage
Worship in Song: A Friends Hymnal #178



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