News From Terre Haute, Indiana

June 29, 2013

Music in worship is never about us; it’s always about God

Verna Davis
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Thomas and his group of singers from Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago were traveling throughout the Midwest. They were singing songs Thomas had written, even though the people complained that Thomas’s music sounded sinful.   

Then came that fateful day when Thomas received word that his wife had died while giving birth to his first child.

He said, “I don’t know how you could accept that — I couldn’t accept it at all.”

Within two days, his baby had died, too. People tried to give him words of comfort, and even though Thomas knew they meant well, no words could give him comfort. He felt that nothing could take away his grief.

During the funeral service for his wife and baby, Thomas stood before his congregation and said, “I don’t know what to do, and I don’t know how to do it. So I must have a talk with my Precious Lord, who always holds my hand.”

Fifty years later, in 1982, as Thomas A. Dorsey was reminiscing about that time, he said, “Believe it or not, right then and there, in the hour of my greatest grief and sorrow, God gave me the song that has brought me hours of my greatest comfort. I sang it then, and I haven’t stopped!”

But the song was criticized — too modern, not what churches were used to singing. Church members of all color said the song was too unsuited to be included in worship services, let alone be printed in their hymn books.

But still, people kept wanting to hear the song, to sing it, for the words and the music soothed their troubled souls. Eventually, singers such as Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley, Gladys Knight, Randy Travis and Faith Hill have recorded this song on their albums. And I daresay, you have sung the song a time or two yourself.

The song Thomas A. Dorsey sang at that funeral in 1932, the one considered not good enough to be sung in church, goes like this: “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.”

While still being criticized, Dorsey wrote “Peace in the Valley” for Mahalia Jackson. (Even though Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley sang it too.) It goes, “Well, I’m tired and so weary/But I must go along/Till the Lord comes and calls, calls me away, oh yes/And the morning’s so bright and the Lamb is the light/And the night, night is as black as the sea, oh yes/Oh, there will be peace in the valley for me some day/Peace in the valley for me, dear Lord I pray/There’ll be no sadness, no sorrow, no trouble I see/There’ll be peace in the valley for me.”

Music in worship. It’s never about us. It’s always about God. I’m so glad Thomas A. Dorsey, the Father of Gospel Music, knew that. Aren’t you?

Verna Davis, speaker and writer, maybe reached at