Precious Lord

1

Not sweet sixteen not even sweet sixteen and she’s moaning
not even sixteen years old and she’s moaning
not even sweet sixteen and she’s moaning the words
moaning out the words to “Precious Lord”
she says “ain’t no harm to moan” and she’s moaning
it’s Aretha in the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit in 1956
words moaned out so that she becomes denuded
no more little black dress she has nothing to hide
no more little black dress she has nothing left to hide.
 
Thomas Dorsey wrote the words wrote the words and the music
Thomas Dorsey wrote the words and the music for “Precious Lord”
Thomas Dorsey aka Georgia Tom wrote other songs
one of the other songs “Deep Moaning Blues”
Thomas Dorsey: “I like the long moaning groaning tone”
Georgia Tom moaned “Deep Moaning Blues” with Ma Rainey
Georgia Tom and Ma Rainey moan they moan and groan
their moaning and groaning make you see
moaning and groaning you’re made to see they have  nothing.
 

     2

The first time Mahalia does it as one interconnected phrase
she does it as three in one three words in one phrase
three in one: “take-en-n—my-ah-aah—ha-an-nd”
Mahalia does it in the same year in 1956 the same year as Aretha
same but different the second time it is more aggressive
it’s more aggressive: “take-ake my-ah han-and”
Mahalia was a big fine woman Mahalia was denuded
she sang “Precious Lord” at the funeral of Martin Luther King
Aretha sang “Precious Lord” at the funeral of Mahalia.
 
Thomas Dorsey met Mahalia met her for the first time in 1928
it was in 1928 that Georgia Tom moaned with Ma Rainey
he moaned with Ma Rainey he moaned and he groaned with Ma Rainey
he met Mahalia and he taught her how to moan
“you teach them how to say their words in a moanful way”
to say their words how to say his words
Mahalia was a big fine woman Mahalia was denuded
Dorsey knew the heavier the voice the better the singer
Dorsey knew as any teacher knows the heavier the better.
 

     3

Al Green has a softened voice he has a voice made softened
he was made to sing softened by Willie Mitchell in 1972
softened and softened and softened
Al Green became Rev. Al Green of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in 1980
a tabernacle is a fixed or movable habitation
habitation where you stay together with the lord
Al Green has a softened voice he has a voice made softened
he was made to sing softened on “Let’s Stay Together”
in 1982 he was made to sing softened on “Precious Lord.”
 
Photograph of Thomas Dorsey photograph of a smooth operator
photograph of Georgia Tom photo of a smooth operator
the photo smoothed out retouched softened
one side of the face completely light one side of the face all dark
one side merges into the light smoothed out softened
one side merges into the dark smoothed out made softened
in the photograph a smooth operator is lighting a cigarette
slender fingers hold a matchbox hold a match
slender fingers hold a softened flame against the softened dark.


     4
 
“Lead me” sing “lead me” they move with a repetitive rhythm
Dom Mocquereau: “rhythm is the ordering of the movement”
repetitive rhythm orders them to move on “lead”
they move with all their weight on “lead” it sounds like “feed”
it’s the Soul Stirrers it’s the most rhythmic music you ever heard
repetitive rhythm it sounds like “feed me”
S.R. Crain tenor A.L. Johnson baritone J.J. Farley bass
Edmond Jabès: “can we be healed by repetition?”
the Soul Stirrers move with a repetitive rhythm sing “feed me.”
 
Thomas Dorsey came to Chicago came looking for deliverance
Georgia Tom came in 1916 the Soul Stirrers in 1937
to get deliverance you have to wait on the movements of providence
he played piano he sang at buffet flats at rent parties
he was a smooth player and he sang softly
a smooth player they called him “the whispering piano player”
the most popular dance at the parties was the slow drag
he learned how to drag easy how to sing softly
how to drag easy how to wait on the movements of providence.

 
     5

Soul Stirrers move with a repetitive rhythm sing “feed me”
repetitive rhythm orders them to sing “feed me”
R.H. Harris sings lead he sings the essential word
R.H. Harris taught Sam Cooke and Sam Cooke taught Johnny Taylor
Johnny Taylor “Who’s Making Love” 1968
R.H. Harris: “they got a touch of me even if they don’t know me”
what they got a touch of touch of tongue love
R.H. Harris taught them to study the essential word
the word brings it to a picture it’s the lord making love.
 
Thomas Dorsey wrote the words wrote the words and the music
Thomas Dorsey wrote the words wrote the essential word
wrote “precious” not “blessed” the essential word is “precious”
this was to be enshrined as a moment of epiphany
moment when he wrote the better-sounding word
moment of épiphanie epiphania epiphano epiphaneia epiphanies
moment of epiphany essential word shining picture
Dorsey: “that thing like something hit me and went all over me”
that thing must be that same thing went all over him.
 

     6

Clara Ward’s real nasal her nasality makes her a real moaner
she moans the three in one three words in one word
she moans so that one word becomes three
one becomes three: “thru-uuu-uah”
double-clutches just like Aretha: “thru-ah thru-uuu-uah the night”
sounds just like Aretha because Aretha sounds just like her
Aretha followed Clara Ward note for moaning note
denuded Aretha followed denuded Clara
and did Aretha follow her to the lord to the lord to the light.
 
Thomas Dorsey was invited to Philadelphia by Gertrude Ward
Mrs. Gertrude Mae Murphy Ward the mother of Clara
in 1931 Mrs. Ward was told in a vision was told to go and to sing
Dorsey was invited to teach the Wards how to sing
how to say his words in a moanful way
Dorsey liked the long moaning groaning tone
Mrs. Ward was told in a vision a vision from the lord
Dorsey taught Clara and Clara taught Aretha
how to say his words in a moanful way all through the night.
 

     7

Sounds like “feed me” doesn’t sound like the Soul Stirrers
it’s not the Soul Stirrers it’s the Kings of Harmony
the Kings of Harmony with Carey Bradley on lead
Carey Bradley was taught by Silas Steele the first hard lead
Silas Steele sang lead for the Blue Jay Singers
those singers recorded the first quartet version of a Dorsey song
Silas Steele sang hard with a repetitive rhythm
question is can we be healed by repetition
over “feed me” Carey Bradley sings hard: “take-ah my hand.”
 
Blue Jay Singers the first quartet to record a Dorsey song
in 1931 those singers recorded “If You See My Saviour”
those singers: “if you see my saviour tell him that you saw me”
in 1931 Georgia Tom recorded “Please Mr. Blues”
Georgia Tom recorded in 1931 with Tampa Red
Georgia Tom and Tampa Red recorded a low moaning blues
“Please Mr. Blues” is a deep low-down moaning blues
those singers: “please be careful handle me like a child”
if you saw their saviour you would see Mr. Blues.
 

     8

Brother Joe May has a big voice has a big and loud voice
Brother Joe May the thunderbolt of the Middle West
the way he sang “pra-aaa-aaa-aaa-shus” is like thunder
he was taught to sing “pra-aaa-aaa-aaa-shus” by Mother Smith
he was taught to sing by Mother Willie Mae Ford Smith
she was called Mother he called her Mother
Mother Smith: “the lord just anoints me while I’m singing”
when you’re anointed something goes all over you
must be that same thng went all over her went all over her son.
 
Mrs. Willie May introduced “If You See My Saviour” in 1930
this was before she was called Mother
twenty years before Brother Joe May sang “pra-aaa-aaa-aaa-shus”
in 1930 in Chicago at the National Baptist Convention
during the morning devotions at the convention
she sang “you saw me” during the morning devotions
in 1930 in Chicago Georgia Tom recorded “She Can Love So Good”
in 1931 in Chicago Georgia Tom recorded “Please Mr. Blues”
if you saw her you’d see Mr. Blues loving her so good.
 

     9

Way past sixteen way past sweet sixteen and she’s moaning
she says “when I don’t feel like singing I moan”
it’s Sister Rosetta Tharpe at The Hot Club de France in 1966
Sister Rosetta had dyed her hair red played a hollow-body jazz guitar
Sister Rosetta has a resonating vibrato
she moans “ho-oo-oo-oo-meh” with a resonating vibrato
she moans out “ho-oo-oo-oo-meh” becomes resonant
“when I don’t feel like singing I moan”
she becomes completely resonant she has nothing left to hide.
 
Thomas Dorsey wrote the words wrote the words and the music
Thomas Dorsey wrote the words and the music for “Precious Lord”
the song is an answer song to another song
answer to George Nelson Allen’s “Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?”
George Nelson Allen thought the answer was no
a cross for everyone “there’s a cross for everyone”
Thomas Dorsey thought the answer was no
“see you got to be susceptible for whatever comes in the ear”
he got Sister Rosetta to be susceptible got everyone susceptible.

John Taggart, “Precious Lord” from Is Music: Selected Poems. Copyright © 2010 by John Taggart. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press.
Source: Is Music: Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2010)
More Poems by John Taggart