Leading me home

email from Mom and sis …

Back in 1932, I was 32 years old and a fairly new husband. My wife, Nettie and I were living in a little apartment on Chicago ‘s south side. One hot August afternoon I had to go to St. Louis where I was to be the featured soloist at a large revival meeting. I didn’t want to go. Nettie was in the last month of pregnancy with our first child. But a lot of people were expecting me in St. Louis .

I kissed Nettie good-bye, clattered downstairs to our Model A and, in a fresh Lake Michigan breeze, chugged out of Chicago on Route 66. However, outside the city, I discovered that in my anxiety at leaving, I had forgotten my music case. I wheeled around and headed back.

I found Nettie sleeping peacefully. I hesitated by her bed; something was strongly telling me to stay. But eager to get on my way, and not wanting to disturb Nettie, I shrugged off the feeling and quietly slipped out of the room with my music.

The next night, in the steaming St. Louis heat, the crowd called on me to sing again and again. When I finally sat down, a messenger boy ran up with a Western Union telegram. I ripped open the envelope. Pasted on the yellow sheet were the words:


People were happily singing and clapping around me, but I could hardly keep from crying out. I rushed to a phone and called home. All I could hear on the other end was ‘Nettie is dead. Nettie is dead.’

When I got back, I learned that Nettie had given birth to a boy. I swung between grief and joy. Yet that same night, the baby died. I buried Nettie and our little boy together, in the same casket. Then I fell apart.

For days I closeted myself. I felt that God had done me an injustice. I didn’t want to serve Him anymore or write gospel songs. I just wanted to go back to that jazz world I once knew so well. But then, as I hunched alone in that dark apartment those first sad days, I thought back to the afternoon I went to St. Louis. Something kept telling me to stay with Nettie. Was that something God? Oh, if I had paid more attention to Him that day, I would have stayed and been with Nettie when she died.

From that moment on I vowed to listen more closely to Him. But still I was lost in grief. Everyone was kind to me, especially one friend. The following Saturday evening he took me up to Malone’s Poro College , a neighborhood music school. It was quiet; the late evening sun crept through the curtained windows. I sat down at the piano, and my hands began to browse over the keys. Something happened to me then. I felt at peace. I felt as though I could reach out and touch God. I found myself playing a melody, once into my head they just seemed to fall into place:

‘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.’

The Lord gave me these words and melody, He also healed my spirit. I learned that when we are in our deepest grief, when we feel farthest from God, this is when He is closest, and when we are most open to
His restoring power. And so I go on living for God willingly and joyfully, until that day comes when He will take me and gently lead me home.

-Tommy Dorsey-

PS: For those too young to know who he is, Tommy Dorsey was a band leader in the Thirties and Forties.

Great story. Thanks Mom and Sis!

Jesus loves you!!


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6 Responses

  1. It is a great story, Nuke. It’s fiction but a great story.

    Background: I wasn’t yet living at the time, but my dad has a MASSIVE collection of swing band sheet music from the era, we’ve had long conversations over the years about the era and genre from his experiences playing the music, etc., AND we’re both well-schooled in hymnology, including history of gospel songs–he from direct acquaintance with many of the early-to-mid 20th century writers of Gospel songs and I from study. So, when I read the really good story above, I smelled conflation of historical personages: Tommy Dorsey the band leader and trombone player (my first instrument–I kinda grew up on Tommy Dorsey *heh*) and Thomas A Dorsey, the gospel song writer.

    Thomas A Dorsey was, according to this Wikipedia article which matches my own recollection well, was six years older than Tommy Dorsey and it was indeed he to whom the story above mostly applies, not Tommy Dorsey the band leader. “Mostly” because “the featured soloist at a large revival meeting” wasn’t accurate, as he was still playing as a jazz musician at the time of his wife’s death.

    One other little dead giveaway that Thomas A Dorsey (the “father of gospel music”) and Tommy Dorsey aren’t the same man: Thomas A Dorsey was a black man. He was never, AFAIK, known as “Tommy Dorsey”.

  2. You’re right. Snopes says so too.

    It is a great story though.


  3. A good message of faith, irrespective of it’s origin.

  4. Indeed it is a great story and a good message of faith, but as an old (now passed on) professor of church history often told us, true stories accurately told are the best stories. Hew as closely to what is true, as closely to known facts as possible and ones stories are most powerful. Dilute a true story with even one fictional element and the story loses some of the power of truth. The story has no need of being “punched up” with an assertion linking it to the famous band leader, Tommy Dorsey, and in fact such linkage weakens the story.

    But then, I’m one of those conservatives that believes in conserving Truth, Justice and The American Way (“Look! Up in the air!” *heh*)

  5. David, did you attend seminary?

  6. Excellent. I love that song. It is very moving. It is nice to finally the story behind it. God bless your family and you.

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