Black History Month: The Story Behind “Take My Hand, Precious Lord”

Hi, friends. I’m stoked right now because I have a special series planned to celebrate Black History Month that’s going to be fun to research and write. In this post and a few others this month, I’m spotlighting African-American spirituals. I love hymns and the South, so this idea was a no-brainer. I hope you enjoy reading these as much as I’ll enjoy writing them!

The Reverend Thomas A. Dorsey

Thomas-Dorsey

Rev. Thomas Dorsey (1899-1993) from Georgia was known as “the father of gospel music.” Prior to becoming a minister, he played as a blues pianist under the stage name “Georgia Tom.” He served as the music director of Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago from the 1930’s to 1970’s, where he composed “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” along with “Peace in the Valley.” Dorsey’s music combines Christian praise with jazz and blues sounds. His hymns involve self-reflection on faith and a relationship with God, contrary to the tradition beforehand of absorbing individuality into a group or belief in worship music. Dorsey died in Chicago at the ripe age of 93.

“Take My Hand, Precious Lord”

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Mahalia Jackson & Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Chicago Tribune, 1963

Dorsey drew heavily from 1844 hymn “Maitland” (or “Must Bear the Cross Alone”) to compose this song. This moving hymn was Martin Luther King, Jr’s favorite song. Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson often sang the tune at civil rights rallies during the 1950’s and 1960’s; she sang the song at his funeral in April 1968. King’s last words before his assassination requested that this song be played at a mass he was attending that night. In 2012, Jackson’s recording of the song was bestowed with a Grammy Hall of Fame award.

Lyrics:

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on
Help 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

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on
Help 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 work is all done
And my race is run
Let me see
By the light thou hast shown
That fair city so bright
Where the lamb is the light
Take my hand, precious Lord
Lead me home

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on
Help 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

Just take my hand, precious Lord
Lead me home

This video is four minutes long and supplements this post beautifully. Thanks for reading and happy Black History Month! Stay tuned for similar posts this month.

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