When Thomas M. Dorsey was growing up, he didn’t realize that his father was a pioneer in gospel music.
But from the time he was a little boy, tagging along on the church circuit, until he became a man, who escorted his dad to major concert halls, there was one song people always wanted to hear — “Precious Lord.””That was the primary song people always sang in tribute to him,” said Dorsey, 71, of Oak Park, whose father, Thomas A. Dorsey, is widely regarded as the father of gospel music.
The elder Dorsey wrote the lyrics of “Precious Lord” in 1932 to a melody from an 1844 hymn titled “Maitland” by American composer George N. Allen.
This month marks the 80th anniversary of the soul-stirring song. The song and the man who wrote its lyrics will be celebrated at a program Wednesday presented by the University of Michigan Dearborn.
” ‘Precious Lord’ is probably second only to ‘Amazing Grace’ when we look at a spiritual/religious text that has international popularity and reaches across racial and cultural borders,” said Deborah Smith Pollard, a gospel music scholar and professor of literature and humanities at U-M Dearborn.
“Precious Lord” has been published in more than 40 languages. It has been sung by singers as diverse as Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Little Richard, Merle Haggard, Engelbert Humperdinck and Elvis Presley. Mahalia Jackson sang it at the funeral of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Opera soprano Leontyne Price sang “Precious Lord” at the funeral of President Lyndon B. Johnson.
While many know the song, few know that its author, who died in 1993, had strong ties to Michigan.