Claim: In response to the death of his wife and child, Tommy Dorsey wrote the song “Precious Lord.”
- Famous big band leader Tommy Dorsey wrote the song “Precious Lord”: False.
- Account describes the writing of “Precious Lord” by gospel great Thomas Andrew Dorsey: True.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2005]
Back in 1932 I was 32 years old and a fairly new husband. My wife, Nettie and I were living in a little apartment on Chicago’s Southside. One hot August afternoon I had to go to
However, outside the city, I discovered that in my anxiety at leaving, had forgotten my music case. I wheeled around and headed back. I found Nettie sleeping peacefully. I hesitated by her bed; something was strongly telling me to stay. But eager to get on my way, and not wanting to disturb Nettie, I shrugged off the feeling and quietly slipped out of the room with my music.
The next night, in the steaming St. Louis heat, the crowd called on me to sing again and again. When I finally sat down, a messenger boy ran up with a Western Union telegram. I ripped open the envelope. Pasted on the yellow sheet were the words: YOUR WIFE JUST DIED. People were happily singing and clapping around me, but I could hardly keep from crying out. I rushed to a phone and called home. All I could hear on the other end was “Nettie is dead. Nettie is dead.”
When I got back, I learned that Nettie had given birth to a boy. I swung between grief and joy. Yet that night, the baby died. I buried Nettie and our little boy together, in the same casket. Then I fell apart. For days I closeted myself. I felt that God had done me an injustice. I didn’t want to serve Him any more or write gospel songs. I just wanted to go back to that jazz world I once knew so well.
But then, as I hunched alone in that dark apartment those first sad days, I thought back to the afternoon I went to
But still I was lost in grief. Everyone was kind to me, especially a friend, Professor Fry, who seemed to know what I needed. On the following Saturday evening he took me up to Malone’s Poro College, a neighborhood music school. It was quiet; the late evening sun crept through the curtained windows. I sat down at the piano, and my hands began to browse over the keys.
Something happened to me then I felt at peace. I feel as though I could reach out and touch God. I found myself playing a melody, one I’d never heard or played before, and the words into my head-they just seemed to fall into place:
Precious Lord, take my hand,
The Lord gave me these words and melody, He also healed my spirit. I learned that when we are in our deepest grief, when we feel farthest from God, this is when He is closest, and when we are most open to His restoring power. And so I go on living for God willingly and joyfully, until that day comes when He will take me and gently lead me home.
Did you know that Tommy Dorsey wrote this song? I sure didn’t. What a wonderful story of how God CAN heal the brokenhearted.
Origins: The earliest record we have of the account quoted above appearing in the online world dates from
nz.soc.religion. Variously titled “Birth of a song,” “Beautiful Story!” and “The Birth of ‘Precious Lord’ by
Its text came into the online world via a transcription of the article “The Birth of ‘Precious Lord’,” written by
As to the question of whether the account is true, the answer is yes. The gospel great Thomas Andrew Dorsey did indeed weather the death of his wife, Nettie, and their newborn child, and these sad events served to inspire him to pen “Precious Lord” in 1932. The song has since been translated into
Yet Thomas Andrew Dorsey of gospel renown and Tommy Dorsey of big band acclaim are not one and the
Tommy Dorsey, the acclaimed trombonist and dance-band leader, was born on
Thomas Andrew Dorsey was born in Villa Rica, Georgia, on
It is to be expected folks would confuse two musicians of the same name who were present on the music scene at approximately the same time. Beyond the difference in their genres of music, here’s another way to tell the them apart: Tommy Dorsey the jazz musician of many popular hits was Caucasian, while
Barbara “and there you have it in black and white” Mikkelson
Last updated: 11 March 2009
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