I hate to admit it. I understand for those of you who read this blog you may think it impossible. I have attempted to avoid the truth and sometimes argued vehemently to protect my fragile ego. But then, in a public statement, questioned by a parishioner, forced to go back and do a fact check, I have discovered the undeniable truth that on Sunday, August 19, at almost 10 AM, I, Paul Hayden, made an inaccurate statement. I was wrong. Ouch.
Here are the details.
At the close of worship service I had the congregation sing the Hymn, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” # 404 in The Presbyterian Hymnal, The composer is Thomas A. Dorsey. Somewhere along life’s way I had heard that the Thomas A. Dorsey was the formal name of Tommy Dorsey of big band fame. So, I shared my now exposed feeble and inaccurate information that this song was Tommy Dorsey’s one Christian composition. Wrong. Ouch. Here is the story as it should have been told as found in “Musicology for Everyone.”
Tommy Dorsey, Thomas A. Dorsey: two different great musicians
Tommy Dorsey (1905-1956) had a rare blend of musical ability and business sense that enabled him to lead one of the most successful dance bands of his era. Famously hard to get along with, he started out with his brother Jimmy, broke with him, and then reconciled later in his life. Tommy Dorsey’s sumptuous cantabile on the trombone is one of the most recognizable sounds of the swing era. He was white, by the way.
Thomas A. Dorsey (1899-1993) is considered the father of (black) gospel music. He started his musical career as a blues and jazz band leader, much like Tommy Dorsey did. His life took a major turn as he listened to a hymn at a Baptist convention. He became a committed Christian and turned from secular music to writing and performing gospel hymns.
His wife died in child birth while he was away on tour, and the child died soon afterward. Their deaths shook Dorsey’s faith to the core, but eventually he regained his faith and peace with God. At that time he composed one of his best-loved hymns, “Precious Lord.” In 1987, he published his account of that crisis in Guideposts (You can google this). That account has deservedly circulated around the Internet for more than a decade now. Unfortunately, it is almost invariably attributed to Tommy Dorsey, the trombonist.
So, in this era of supposed Fake News, here is the truth. Thomas A. Dorsey, the father of (black) gospel music, wrote “Precious Lord,” in a time of grieving. Instead of allowing a root of bitterness (Hebrews 12:15) to consume his soul, he turned to a God who promised “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5), in good times or in bad times. Thomas Dorsey learned what King David knew, the God I worship is my rock and my fortress (Psalm 18:2, 31, 46), a present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1). Thomas A. Dorsey took the Lord’s hand and walked through his season of deep loss.
May the Lord who longs to take your hand be the one with whom you walk, hand in hand, through the days of your life.