A couple of weeks ago I wrote about going to see "Jersey Boys" and the effects of hearing music of my teen years had on me. I heard from a reader that he and his daughter had also been to see the show. When The Four Seasons sang "Sherry" both of them were all but in tears. His wife's name was Sherri and she died almost a year ago. The song evoked many memories they had together.
Music has a way of bringing out every imaginable emotion. I am amazed at the talent song writers and composers posses that they are able to do that for us.
A few weeks ago, our Pastor Suzanne spoke about a hymn titled "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" and why it was written.
I was really taken with the composer's story.
Thomas A. Dorsey (July 1, 1899 – Jan. 23, 1993) was known as "the Father of Black Gospel Music."
Born in Villa Rica, Ga., his father was a minister. At a very early age, he began playing piano, frequenting jazz clubs, gaining quite a reputation. He couldn't read music so he sent for a home study course and became self-taught. He furthered his education by attending the Chicago College of Composition and Arranging. He became an agent for Paramount Records. He was most famous as Georgia Tom and recorded the raunchy 1928 hit record "Tight Like That," which sold seven million copies. He is credited with more than 400 blues and jazz songs.
In his 20s, Thomas gave his life to Jesus and began writing and recording Gospel music a combination of Christian praise with the rhythms of jazz and the blues. He became the music director of two churches in the early 30s, and held one of those positions from 1932 into the 1970s. He formed the first Gospel Chorus. By then he was the Rev. Thomas Dorsey. He married his first wife, Nettie in 1925.
Other churches began to form gospel choirs and called for his guidance and he was elected president of the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses. In 1932 he had gone to St. Louis to a gospel convention, leaving Nettie home, due any day with their first son. He didn't want to leave, but so great was the demand, he decided to go.
During a concert, he received a telegram. Nettie was giving birth and it wasn't good. Nettie died in childbirth. He rushed home. His son, Thomas Andrew Jr., died 24 hours later. Thomas sank into despair, a broken man, doubting the goodness of God. He vowed to never write another hymn.
A week later, he was sitting alone at a piano. Into the room came a heavy peace such as he had never known before. He felt the urge to play. His fingers found a familiar melody. Along with his tears, "The words just dropped like drops of water ... from the crevice of a rock," he had said.
"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."
God had given him a song that lifted him up and changed the course of his music career. It was translated into more than 40 languages and has been sung by some of the biggest names in Gospel music.
Dorsey opened the first black gospel music publishing company, Dorsey House of Music. He also founded his own gospel choir and was a founder and first president of the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses.
Dorsey went on to write many more hymns, including another famous one. It was the first gospel song recording in history that sold more than one million copies.
In his own words ..."It was just before Hitler sent his war chariots into Western Europe in the late thirties. I was on a train going through Southern Indiana on the way to Cincinnati, and the country seemed to be upset about this coming war that he was about to bring on. I passed through a valley on the train. Horses, cows, sheep, they were all grazing and together in this little valley. Kind of a little brook was running through the valley, and up the hill there I could see where the water was falling from. Everything seemed so peaceful with all the animals down there grazing together. It made me wonder what's the matter with humanity? What's the matter with mankind? Why couldn't man live in peace, like the animals down there? So out came 'Peace In The Valley.'"
"There will be peace in the valley for me someday, There will be peace in the valley for me, Oh Lord I pray, There'll be no sadness, no sorrow, no trouble I'll see, There will be peace in the valley for me."
This hymn was a favorite of my grandparents. As I was growing up, they played a record of it often. It was as familiar to me as any song I knew back then.
It was a song that came to mind last Sunday on my way to church. Driving along Fiddletown Road, I was rehashing in my mind what I had seen earlier on television about the unrest in the Ukraine and Russian troops invading the Crimea. We are still losing loved ones in Afghanistan. Civil wars are being fought in Syria, Africa and Pakistan.
Then along came a flock of white ducks, waddling across a one-lane bridge. I had to stop to let them pass. I watched as they climbed over a snow bank and one-by-one flew down into the stream below. The beautiful white birds grouped together, against the dark water, made such a pretty picture, I got out of the car with my camera and snapped away. I found myself humming, "There will be peace in the valley for me, someday ..."
I realized I can do little about all the unrest in the world but I can enjoy the gift of peace in my valley and appreciate all the amazing every day miracles that surrounds me until the Precious Lord takes me home.