Though Beyoncé’s powerful performance at Sunday’s Grammy Awards in Los Angeles has gotten everybody talking, few have mentioned the origins of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” the iconic gospel anthem the “Drunk in Love” performer sang.
The song dates back to the 1932. It was penned by the Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey, the Chicago-based “father of gospel music,” in response to the death of his first wife, Nettie, in childbirth, and the death of his newborn son two days later.
The song was most famously performed by Mahalia Jackson, who also lived in Chicago for most of her life, and her version was released in 1956. It went on to become the contralto’s best-known song, as well as the favorite hymn of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. At King’s request, Jackson performed it at civil rights rallies as well as his funeral in 1968.
Aretha Franklin performed the hymn at King's memorial service, then again at Jackson’s funeral in Chicago in 1972. A number of other well-known artists, including Nina Simone, Al Green, Mavis Staples and Gladys Knight, went on to record their own versions.
Jackson is portrayed by singer Ledisi in the Oscar-nominated film “Selma,” and Ledisi expressed disappointment on Sunday that she wasn't chosen to perform the iconic song during the ceremony. Though the Grammys gave the honor to Beyoncé, Ledisi said was grateful that the song has taken on new life thanks to the film.
In a mini-documentary released Monday, Beyoncé shared rehearsal footage leading up to her Grammys performance and described childhood memories of her mother, Tina, singing Jackson’s version of the song.
“She sang the song with her eyes closed and she was a vessel and it was like God speaking, he was in her body to speak and to heal," she said.
Beyoncé said her performance was in honor of black men, including her father, who have dealt with so much prejudice over the years.
“I felt like this is an opportunity to show the strength and vulnerability in black men,” she said.