I have to start this post with a confession. A while ago, I had a music therapy client request the song “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” I had known the song for a while, but when I looked up the lyrics this time around, I noticed that the composer listed was Thomas Dorsey.
“Huh,” I thought. “I didn’t know that was a big band song.”
It turns out there were two men named Thomas Dorsey, both who were notable musicians and composers in the mid-twentieth century.
Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey
Reverend Thomas Andrew Dorsey, the composer of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” was born on July 1, 1899 in Villa Rica, Georgia. With a minister as his father and a piano teacher as his mother, maybe it’s no wonder that Dorsey began playing music early. He studied music formally in Chicago as a young adult and started performing blues music first, under the stage name Georgia Tom. He started recording blues and gospel music in the mid-1920s, and took on the job of bandleader at two churches in the early 1930s. In fact, he stayed on at the Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago until the late 1970s.
As a composer, music publisher, gospel choir leader, and founder of the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, Dorsey became so closely associated with the style that he was known as The Father of Gospel Music. In fact, new gospel songs were sometimes called “dorseys.”
Dorsey’s most well-known song was composed out of grief, after the death of his first wife, Nettie, in childbirth and the death of their child just two days later. You can see the pain and weariness in these lyrics:
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
Applications for Caregivers:
Dorsey’s song has definitely been important for more than one of my older adult clients who lean on their Christian faith during difficult times, especially when they are nearing the end of life or dealing with the loss of a loved one. Because it can bring up sensitive topics, however, be careful introducing this song without being ready to support the person you’re caring for.
Thomas Francis “Tommy” Dorsey, Jr.
Our second Thomas Dorsey was better known by the nickname Tommy. A trombonist, Dorsey was born into a musical family, with a bandleader father (Thomas F. Dorsey, Sr.) and brother (Jimmy Dorsey). Tommy Dorsey formed is own band in 1935, after a split with his older brother Jimmy. The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra had a long and successful run, staying mostly active through the mid-1950s with a variety of musicians, including Carl “Doc” Severinsen, Buddy Rich, Jo Stafford, and Frank Sinatra.
The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra was a quintessential big band, playing ballads and swing numbers that were just made for dancing. The band had 286 Billboard chart hits, including seventeen number one hits in the 1930s and 1940s. Some of these classic recordings included “Marie,” “I’ll Never Smile Again,” and “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You.” And, although Tommy Dorsey was best known as a bandleader, he also wrote several classic songs himself, including “The Morning After” and “Trombonology.”
Applications for Caregivers:
I use recordings by The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra frequently, to take full advantage of the big band sound. Many of this group’s iconic recordings, with long instrumental sections, would work well for expressive or rhythmic movement to music, or instrument playing.