THE BIRTH OF THE SONG

 
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 Southside. 
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: YOUR WIFE JUST  DIED.
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 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 a friend,
Professor Fry, who seemed to know what
I needed.
On 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, one
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-

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