The Herald Bulletin

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Columns

June 28, 2013

Verna Davis: From grief, lyrics and worship combine to praise God

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 they 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 types 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 it, 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 dare say, you have sung the song a time or two yourself.

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