Thomas Dorsey, born in 1899, was the son of a Baptist minister and a piano teacher. His life’s work would include the passions of both parents, scripture and song. He studied music in Chicago and eventually became a jazz musician and pianist frequently going by the name, Georgia Tom. Though he and Big Band musician Tommy Dorsey shared a name and profession, the two were not related.
“Georgia Tom” Dorsey became famous in the early 1920s. He was an amazing pianist and a genius at combining original music with suggestive lyrics. He played piano on the raunchy 1928 sensation, “Tight Like That,” which sold seven million copies.
During this time, God was at work in Dorsey’s life and led him to give up the suggestive music he had been producing and begin writing gospel songs. We often assume when we do the right thing our life will get better, but for Dorsey it got worse. He reached a breaking point in 1932 when his wife, Nettie, died during childbirth, two days later their infant son also died.
In the midst of the Great Depression and dealing with overwhelming grief, Dorsey cried out to God for help and wrote, “Precious Lord Take My Hand.” His masterpiece throbs with intense emotion and deep faith. It was a desperate man’s prayer, and it connected not only with God but with millions of others who were also struggling.
Dorsey’s words speak for themselves. 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.
The composer did not become bitter and his faith grew. When trusting him seemed to make no sense, he sought God. Dorsey’s song expressed both his personal anguish and his confidence that God was with him in his pain.
“Precious Lord Take My Hand” has comforted and challenged millions. Many, like Dorsey, have sensed God’s presence during tough moments and clung to their faith.
During my own 60+ years I have observed how everyone eventually deals with loss. It is part of life. Some become bitter as they focus on how unfair life can be, while others seek God’s help sailing through their storms to become stronger.
During our own tough times we would do well to remember scripture’s remarkable promise, “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.” (Deuteronomy 31:8, NLT) Reflecting on this passage helps us confidently say with Dorsey, “Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand…”