By Storyteller Rev. Robert Jones with Sister Bernice Jones

 

Story Summary:

 Robert Jones talks about the roots of Gospel music and the influence of Thomas A. Dorsey and Mahalia Jackson.

For a print friendly version of the transcript: Precious-Lord

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Gospel is a blend of spirituals, blues and African rhythm. How do musical forms morph into their next evolution?
  2. What was happening in the U.S. and for African Americans as Gospel music evolved? How did Gospel music provide comfort and artistic expression for African Americans?

Resources:

  • People Get Ready!: A New History of Black Gospel Music by Robert Darden
  • Thomas A. Dorsey Father of Black Gospel an Interview by Robert L. Taylor
  • Mahalia Jackson: Born to Sing Gospel Music by Evelyn Witter

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures

Full Transcript:

You talk about the development of American roots music and how much wonderful music came out of the blues. But probably one of the most… least, understood styles to come out of blues would be gospel. That you had piano players like Georgia Tom Dorsey who played these little ditties like… (Singing)

I got a gal who’s crazy about me.

She’s just as crazy as a gal can be.

Well, she ain’t crazy. She’s just funny that way.

And this was in the 1920s – a kind of music called hokum. It had a lot of really suggestive lyrics and double entrendres and stuff like that. But he went back to church in the midst of the Great Depression. He went back to Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago and started playing for his father off doing the revival. He had settled down, he had married the girl of his dreams, and they were waiting the birth of the first child when he got a telegram that told him to come home. Your wife has died. And he comes home. And, already devastated by the fact that his wife was gone, he found out that the baby, who they had managed to save in childbirth, had died as well.

And he talked about putting them both into the same casket and being devastated. Not being able to play anything. Blues, nothing. Spirituals, nothing. And then one day, he’s sitting diddling around on the piano, and following those same old chord changes that he played for blues. But he slowed them down and sort of gave birth to another style of music we call gospel.

Those chord changes weren’t enough. Thomas Dorsey had a kind of a light, high voice. He needed a powerful voice in order to sell his music. So he found a woman by the name of Mahalia Jackson. And Mahalia and Georgia Tom Dorsey, now known as Professor Thomas A. Dorsey, made gospel music what it is with songs like this.

(Guitar playing and singing)

Precious Lord, take my hand

Lead me on, let me stand

I’m so tired, I am weak, I am worn

Lord, I am worn

Through the storm, through the night

Lead me on to the light

Take my hand, precious Lord, and lead me home

 

Precious Lord, take my hand

Lead me on, let me stand

I’m so tired, I am weak, (I am weak) I am worn (Lord, I am worn)

Lord, I am worn

Through the storm, (Through the storm) through the night (through the night)

Lead me on (lead me on) to the light

Take my hand, precious Lord, and lead me home